The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) on July 15 kicked off the ‘Summer of Solar 2021’ with the nationwide launch of the Solar Automated Permit Processing Plus (SolarAPP+) tool — a free web-based platform that gives local governments the ability to expedite their review and approval of residential solar installation permits. Developed by DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), SolarAPP+ will drastically reduce barriers to solar deployment, spur community economic development, and advance the Biden-Harris Administration’s clean energy goals.
“We are fast tracking America’s clean energy future by cutting red tape to make it cheaper and easier for homeowners to access power from the sun,” said Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “ SolarAPP+ will bust through bureaucracy to speed up permitting, helping homeowners more quickly add solar panels on their roofs, adding gigawatts of clean electricity to the nations grid, while creating good paying jobs. Today, I’m challenging localities across the country to bring the SolarAPP+ right to their hometowns.”
The cost of solar power has declined 90% over the past decade, however, the soft costs of solar installations remain the biggest barrier for many American families interested in solar energy – chief among them are the costs incurred by customers, contractors and local governments by delays in obtaining rooftop solar installation permits.
“Today is a landmark day for America’s solar progress, and we congratulate the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the U.S. Department of Energy for launching SolarAPP+. SEIA and our members have worked tirelessly alongside building officials, solar companies, and government leaders to develop this critical platform, which will expedite safer solar installations, deliver a better customer experience, and save money for local municipalities, allowing them to devote more resources to their communities,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of SEIA.
Solar permitting processes vary widely across the country, with some customers waiting weeks to months to get approval for some customers, and solar installers tend to avoid working in areas with difficult permit processes. SolarAPP+ solves this problem by providing solar contractors nationwide with a standardized, automated permitting process for residential installations. SolarAPP+ reviews solar project applications for building code compliance and instantly approving permits that meet the right specifications – making it easier and faster for local governments to process and issue permits. Local governments that fast-track permits, with programs similar to SolarAPP+, have been shown to increase residential solar installations by 600%.
SolarAPP+ pilot program began in four communities throughout Arizona and California in the last year. Since then, all four communities — Tucson, Arizona; Pima County, Arizona; Menifee, California; and Pleasant Hill, California — have launched SolarAPP+ with great results. In Tucson, for example, SolarAPP+ reduced permitting reviews from approximately 20 business days to zero. Across the country, 25% of projects take more than 2 weeks to permit, and 5% of projects take more than a month.
SolarAPP+ automatically conducts code compliance checks to ensure safety and generates a standardized inspection checklist for installers and inspectors to use to verify compliance in the field. The tool’s compliance reviews are based on the international model codes that nearly half of the country’s permitting authorities use, including the 2017 National Electrical Code, so that applications are compliant from the start.
At the start of Summer 2021, the country hit significant solar milestones achieving more than 100 gigawatts (GW) of installed solar capacity and 3 million solar installations nationwide. To build on this significant growth, DOE is launching the ‘Summer of Solar’ campaign to educate the public about solar energy and to support a new DOE goal to get commitments from 125 local governments to sign up to learn more about SolarAPP+ by the end of September 2021.
NREL developed SolarAPP+ in collaboration with building safety officials and solar industry leaders, including the International Code Council, International Association of Electrical Inspectors, and UL. NREL has signed a memorandum of understanding with UL to manage and deploy the software by 2023. The DOE Solar Energy Technologies Office is funding the development of the tool.
Local governments and installers can sign up to get started here or learn more about SolarAPP+ at the upcoming webinar on July 28, 2021 from 2-3 p.m. ET: Streamline Solar Permitting Using the No-cost SolarAPP+ Online Tool with National League of Cities.
News item from DOE