Solar permitting is finally moving online
The shift to allowing solar energy online started before the pandemic, but lockdown and remote orders made the move urgent. Contractors had asked for relief from the elaborate paper forms and long wait times at the permitting office, and NREL delivered. The lab launched the online licensing solution SolarAPP+ nationwide in July 2020, and since the Biden administration took office, the Department of Energy has left its full weight behind.
This past fall, Sec. Jennifer Granholm wrote an open letter asking all U.S. mayors to use SolarAPP+ to accelerate the solar licensing process and help meet the government’s robust climate goals, including achieving 40% solar in the mix of the country by 2035.
“Until now, obtaining permits to install solar in some parts of the country can take days, weeks, or even months and can be a complex and costly process,” said Sec. wrote Granholm. “At a time when we use technology to create life-saving vaccines, connect virtually with colleagues and family, and explore outer space, it seems unlikely that we are still pushing paper to process solar permit applications.”
She set a goal last year to get 125 communities to sign up to learn more about SolarAPP+ by September 30.
Since its launch in July, the SolarAPP+ tool incorporated more than 2,700 residential solar permits in 12 jurisdictions saved customers an estimated 12 business days from project submission to final jurisdiction inspection, according to NREL. Nine communities are testing the SolarAPP+ energy storage system permit with more than 200 permits processed to date.
NREL and Accela released a study in two key places that have found success in SolarAPP+. Pima County and Tucson, Arizona, reportedly saved more than 1,000 hours of permit processing time and speeded up the installation process for contractors and customers.
“The City of Tucson and Pima County take climate change seriously and believe that all communities should play a role in creating a better, healthier planet for future Arizonans,” said Carla Blackwell, Pima County director of development services, in the statement. report. “SolarAPP+ represents a clear next step for communities like mine to make the immediate, affordable and necessary changes to our pre-existing systems to combat climate change.”
An investigation by NREL researchers in the energy policy magazine found instant online solar permits are associated with shorter sign-submission and submission-approve duration, and found no proof of adverse downstream effects of these developments.
SolarAPP+ is free for AHJs, but contractors pay a standard fee per application to maintain the system and fund continuous updates, in addition to the fees charged by AHJs.
The SolarAPP+ platform also plans to publish data on permits across the country to streamline costs from city to city. Jurisdictions can reassess the fees as it is clear that SolarAPP+ reduces the time and effort required to process permits.
In May 2021, NREL announced a memorandum of understanding with UL to further develop and commercialize SolarAPP+ to achieve its goal of using the software to cover 90% of all residential solar + storage licenses by 2030.
“Their credibility with installers, customers and local governments will help us build a scalable product, while building local government confidence in the automated code compliance checks at the heart of the application,” said Jeffrey Cook, NREL’s lead developer of SolarAPP+, in a statement. press. release.
While some AHJs can be slow to adopt new technology, SolarAPP+’s government support can help even the smallest cities enable permit reforms.