The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and The Solar Foundation are joining the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), several national residential solar companies, and other nonprofit organizations to develop new automated permit software for distributed solar and storage, reducing the cost of solar installations and saving resources for local governments and taxpayers.
NREL was awarded $695,000 in new funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Technology Transitions, Technology Commercialization Fund to develop and deploy the Solar Automated Permit Processing (SolarAPP) software platform. The intent is to dramatically reduce the time and cost of the permitting application review and approval process, which is intended to decrease customer cancellation rates and expand solar energy development and solar job growth nationwide.
“Over the past decade, NREL research has shown that while the cost of PV modules and other hardware has declined, non-hardware ‘soft’ costs remain relatively constant. The SolarAPP software will help address key soft cost challenges by providing both AHJs and installers a standardized online portal to complete and manage permitting and inspection processes,” said Kristen Ardani, Solar Analysis Sub-program Lead at NREL. “We look forward to serving the critical role of an independent, third-party developer of the SolarAPP portal.”
The SolarAPP Campaign seeks a fundamental reshaping of solar permitting at the federal, state and local levels. The goal is to allow most routine rooftop solar projects to receive instantaneous approval and efficient inspections while enhancing safety and reliability.
The SolarAPP platform will build on existing software capabilities at NREL to do the following:
- Provide a flexible, web-based solar permitting tool for residential systems.
Encourage the standardization of permitting processes, while allowing for some flexibility to produce applications that meet the specific requirements of AHJs.
- Evaluate applications and design plans for safety certification and code compliance.
Offer opportunities to incorporate energy storage and expand to other market segments, such as solar thermal and commercial systems.
- The SolarAPP initiative builds on previous and existing programs to reduce soft costs, including the SolSmart program that provides designation and no-cost technical assistance for local governments to open up solar markets.
“The SolarAPP platform will help local governments reduce administrative burdens and make it faster and easier for customers to go solar,” said Andrea Luecke, president and executive director at The Solar Foundation. “At a time when accelerating the deployment of solar and storage has never been more urgent, this platform fills a critical market need.”
The partners working with NREL, SEIA and the Solar Foundation on the SolarAPP software include installation companies as well as key nonprofit organizations and trade associations. Additional partners include the California Solar & Storage Association, Institute for Building Technology and Safety (IBTS), SunPower, Sunrun, Tesla and Vivint Solar.
“Inefficient permitting can cause frustration and added costs for Americans who just want to go solar,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of SEIA. “A streamlined, easy-to-use solution such as SolarAPP can cut down on burdensome applications and connect solar projects to the grid faster. A more reliable permitting experience will help both inspectors and solar customers save time and money without sacrificing safety or quality. We’re thrilled to see SolarAPP get financial backing from the Department of Energy and will continue to actively support this important initiative.”
While the cost of residential solar installations has decreased more than 70% over the last 10 years, costs are still much higher in the United States than in other mature markets, 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.
Nationwide, there are over 20,000 AHJs 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.
“Sunrun is proud to partner with NREL, The Solar Foundation, the Solar Energy Industries Association and other industry partners to support the development of the Solar Automated Permit Software for distributed PV and battery storage,” said Alex McDonough, VP of public policy at Sunrun. “This resource will help companies like Sunrun cut red tape and reduce their costs to deliver significantly more affordable, reliable, local clean energy solutions to communities around the country.”
This platform will also assist local governments, which face budget constraints and growing workloads to keep up with the accelerated pace of solar energy development.
“The SolarAPP will make it faster and easier for homeowners to get clean, affordable solar energy and Vivint Solar is pleased to partner with NREL, The Solar Foundation, SEIA and other industry advocates to develop this technology,” said David Bywater, CEO of Vivint Solar.
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