Industry comes together to develop solar permitting solution
Communities across the country have set goals for reducing energy consumption and expanding the use of renewable energy sources like solar. In 2019, the United States reached two million residential solar photovoltaic (PV) installations, which are expected to double by 2023. The cost of solar PV panels and associated components have also fallen significantly in recent years.
In some communities, this rapid growth has presented challenges in the timely processing of permits and plan review for residential solar installations. In many cases, the plans and installations are rather routine with little variation between projects. Solar PV manufacturers and installers have reported permitting delays can lead to customer cancellations. At the same time, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Solar Energy Technologies Office has an initiative to lower the non-hardware costs of solar installations to help encourage greater deployment.
To address these cross-cutting challenges, the concept for SolarAPP (Solar Automated Permit Processing Platform) was born. Representatives from the solar industry, code developers, authorities having jurisdiction and the DOE, led by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, came together to develop a web-based portal to streamline the permit submission and approval process and perform basic code compliance checks based on user-submitted information. Submitted information would be verified during an inspection.
Recognizing the value that tools like SolarAPP will provide to code departments in enhancing efficiency and customer service and the importance that such tools maintain the ultimate goal of building safety, the Code Council is a proud participant in the development of SolarAPP.
“It has been great to see the industry come together to develop an innovative solution that addresses the needs of code departments and industry, recognizing the importance of building safety and supporting the deployment of sustainable energy solutions. We look forward to continued work with the SolarAPP team to leverage the technical content in our codes and standards and ensure that jurisdictions have the tools they need to realize their efficiency goals,” states Joan O’Neil, Chief Knowledge Officer of the Code Council.
After an extensive development and review process, SolarAPP recently issued its first permit in Pleasant Hill, California Pleasant Hill Chief Building Official Geoffrey Simmons commented on why his jurisdiction was interested in using SolarAPP, “As a person who has completed over 1,200 field inspections of residential solar installations it seemed like this would be a great next step in the process for common repetitive residential solar installations which is why we agreed to be a part of the pilot program. SolarAPP has had the added benefit of not requiring people to come into the Permit Center and move straight to Inspections where we can safely look at the installation. This has put another tool in our chest to help our customers.”
A recent survey by the Code Council found that about one in five respondent jurisdictions would consider using SolarAPP, with the greatest interest on the West Coast and in the Northeast U.S.
While the current SolarAPP is approaching widespread deployment, the development team is not resting on their laurels. Recognizing the evolving nature of renewable energy deployments, including the expanding use of energy storage, the SolarAPP team is in the process of incorporating energy storage permitting into the platform and updating the code editions covered by the program. Additional project types may be added in the future.