The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) kicked off the ‘Summer of Solar 2021’ on July 15 with the nationwide launch of Solar Automated Permit Processing Plus (SolarAPP+), a free web-based platform that empowers local governments to their assessment and approval of permits for residential solar installations. SolarAPP+, developed by DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), will dramatically reduce barriers to solar deployment, boost community economic development and advance the Biden-Harris Administration’s clean energy goals.
“We are rapidly 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 cut red tape to speed up licensing, help homeowners add solar panels to their roofs faster, add gigawatts of clean electricity to the national grid, while creating high-paying jobs. Today I challenge places across the country to bring the SolarAPP+ directly to their hometown.”
The cost of solar energy has fallen by 90% in the past decade, but the soft cost of solar installations remains the biggest barrier for many American families interested in solar energy. Chief among these are the costs incurred by customers, contractors and local authorities due to delays in obtaining permits for rooftop solar installations.
“Today marks a milestone in America’s progress in solar energy and we congratulate the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the US Department of Energy on the launch of SolarAPP+. SEIA and our members have worked tirelessly with construction officials, solar companies and government leaders to develop this critical platform, which will accelerate safer solar installations, provide a better customer experience and save money for local municipalities, allowing them to spend more resources on their communities,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, SEIA president and CEO.
Solar licensing procedures vary widely across the country, with some customers waiting weeks to months for approval for some customers, and solar installers tend to work in areas with difficult permitting procedures. SolarAPP+ solves this problem by providing solar contractors across the country with a standardized, automated permit process for residential installations. SolarAPP+ assesses applications for solar projects for compliance with building regulations and immediately approving permits that meet the correct specifications, making it easier and faster for local authorities to process and issue permits. Local governments have been shown to accelerate permitting, with programs similar to SolarAPP+ increase residential solar installations by 600%.
The SolarAPP+ pilot program started last year in four communities in Arizona and California. Since then, all four communities – Tucson, Arizona; Pima County, Arizona; Menifee, California; and Pleasant Hill, California — launched SolarAPP+ with great results. In Tucson, for example, SolarAPP+ has reduced permit assessments from approximately 20 business days to zero. Across the country, 25% of projects take more than 2 weeks to get approval and 5% of projects take longer than a month.
SolarAPP+ automatically performs compliance checks to ensure safety and generates a standardized inspection checklist that installers and inspectors can use to verify compliance in the field. The tool’s compliance ratings are based on the international model codes used by nearly half of the country’s licensing authorities, including the 2017 National Electrical Code, ensuring applications are compliant from the start.
By the beginning of the summer of 2021, the country reached major solar milestones, with more than 100 gigawatts (GW) of installed solar capacity and 3 million solar installations across the country. To build on this significant growth, DOE is launching the ‘Summer of Solar’ campaign to educate the public about solar energy and support a new DOE goal of getting commitments from 125 local governments to adhere to to learn more about SolarAPP+ by the end of September 2021.
NREL has developed SolarAPP+ in collaboration with construction safety officials and leaders in the solar industry, including the International Code Council, International Association of Electrical Inspectors and UL. NREL has signed 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 authorities and installers can: sign up to start here or learn more about SolarAPP+ during the upcoming webinar on July 28, 2021 from 11pm ET:Streamline solar permits using the free SolarAPP+ online tool with the National League of Cities.
News item from DOE