Contribute to the SolarAPP and help streamline residential solar permitting processes
Last year, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) was awarded $695,000 in new, matched funding to develop and deploy new automated permit software for distributed solar and storage — the Solar Automated Permit Processing (SolarAPP) software platform — intended to dramatically reduce the time and cost of residential solar installations and the permitting application review and approval process. The goal of the project is to decrease customer cancellation rates, reduce and save resources for local governments and taxpayers, and expand solar energy development and solar job growth nationwide. The SolarAPP platform will provide automated review and instant approval of certain qualifying residential rooftop solar photovoltaic systems, representing a new, standardized permitting approach.
The intent of the SolarAPP platform is to provide authorities having jurisdiction (AHJ) personnel with a permitting solution geared specifically for residential solar installations that can streamline resource and time requirements associated with reviewing code compliance for this rapidly growing market. The platform works in conjunction with field inspection where code compliance of the installed system is verified. The SolarAPP will allow contractors to complete an online permit application where the software will review the application for compliance with the code. If approved, it will instantly deliver a permit from the AHJ for the installation of qualifying residential rooftop systems. Then, before the system is switched on, AHJ personnel will conduct a field inspection to verify that the installed system matches the one submitted online, and that the installation complies with the code. Those systems that do not qualify for an instant permit in the SolarAPP will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis by AHJ personnel using traditional processes.
While the cost of residential solar installations has decreased more than 70 percent over the last 10 years, costs are still much higher in the United States than in other mature markets. It is believed that the differences are largely due to non-hardware “soft costs.” The direct and indirect costs of permitting, inspection and interconnection, including efforts spent acquiring customers who cancel before a permit is issued, can add about $1 per watt, or $7,000, to the cost of a typical residential system. With more than 20,000 AHJs nationwide with distinct permitting and inspection requirements, application costs and approval times, the SolarAPP platform will provide a streamlined process that will increase efficiency and reduce the time and cost of a solar permit, leading in turn to lower cancellation rates. It will also provide significant benefits to AHJs, many of whom are struggling to process record numbers of solar permit applications with limited staff resources.
“With the increasing role of residential solar energy systems and the widespread use of photovoltaic systems, the time is certainly right to introduce a platform to streamline permitting that will assist jurisdictions, local governments, contractors and code professionals in keeping up with the accelerated pace of solar energy development in the face of budget constraints and growing workloads,” said International Code Council Chief Executive Officer Dominic Sims, CBO. “The SolarAPP platform enables routine solar projects to receive instantaneous approval and efficient inspections while enhancing safety and reliability. We are very pleased to have contributed our expertise to the SolarAPP platform project and we look forward to the next step in its development and introduction to the industry.”
The SolarAPP team — a technical workgroup organized and led by NREL — developed a collaborative set of preliminary structural, fire and electrical permitting requirements for the SolarAPP system while also developing and building a prototype of the SolarAPP permitting platform. This set of draft permitting requirements was developed and reviewed by a variety of subject matter experts and key partners from the following organizations (listed in alphabetical order): The city of Modesto, Calif.; the International Association of Electrical Inspectors; the International Code Council; the Interstate Renewable Energy Council; the National Fire Protection Association; the Solar Energy Industries Association; Sunrun; Tesla; Vivint Solar; and UL LLC. The workgroup also received technical feedback from a variety of other organizations and AHJs, including Boulder County, Colo.; the California Solar and Storage Association; the city of Bakersfield, Calif.; the city of Murrieta, Calif.; the city of Oceanside, Calif.; the Institute for Building Technology and Safety; Sunpower; The Solar Foundation; and more.
Now, NREL is collaborating with key code officials, building officials and industry members and requesting a technical review of the preliminary permitting requirements to identify:
- Critical flaws, including missing equipment or project information necessary to approve at least some residential rooftop solar permits.
- Requirements that may be too restrictive or too expansive to support instant approval of typical solar installations.
- Strategies to mitigate controversy and encourage more widespread adoption.
The package of permitting materials is divided into three sections as follows:
- Electrical permitting requirements, including two examples of solar projects covered by the SolarAPP (i.e., string inverters and microinverters).
- Fire permitting requirements organized around an initial attestation that is verified at inspection.
- Structural permitting requirements that further shape the types of projects that can be potentially approved through the SolarAPP.
This essential feedback will serve as the basis to generate a final set of requirements that will be subsequently submitted for widespread AHJ and contractor review. The deadline to submit feedback is by close of business on April 21, 2020.
Provide feedback in an upcoming webinar
Code professionals, building officials, AHJs, industry members, contractors and all other solar stakeholders are invited to attend a free SolarAPP Preliminary Permit Requirements webinar — from 11:00 a.m. MT/1:00 p.m. ET on April 14, 2020 — to get a sneak peek at the in-development SolarAPP platform, review and provide feedback on the draft permitting requirements, and learn how to help test and market the SolarAPP. For those who cannot participate in this webinar, a full set of draft permitting requirements can be requested — and feedback provided — by April 21, 2020. Register now to attend this free webinar.
The SolarAPP research is supported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Energy Technologies Office, which supports early-stage research and development to improve the flexibility and performance of solar technologies that contribute to supporting the reliability, resilience and security of the U.S. electric grid. The office invests in innovative research efforts that securely integrate more solar energy into the grid, enhance the use and storage of solar energy, and lower solar electricity costs.
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