Soft cost reduction on the way? NREL developing automated solar permitting software

solar permit approval

The Solar Foundation and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) tell us they are teaming with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), among other national residential solar companies and nonprofits, to develop new automated permit software for distributed solar and storage. If all goes according to plan, this could be a big help to reduce the cost of solar installations while 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 in turn will decrease customer cancellation rates and expand solar energy development and solar job growth nationwide.

While the cost of residential solar installations has decreased more than 70% over the last ten 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.

Check out Shadow Costs, our award-winning feature that went in depth on problems created by outdated permitting processes.

“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 plan

Nationwide, there are over 20,000 authorities having jurisdiction (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.

This platform will also benefit local governments, which face budget constraints and growing workloads to keep up with the accelerated pace of solar energy development. Automated permitting will reduce time spent and increase permit revenues, allowing AHJs to focus their resources on post-installation and inspections.

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 partners working with NREL on the SolarAPP software include installation companies as well as key nonprofit organizations and trade associations. Partners include the California Solar + Storage Association, Institute for Building Technology and Safety (IBTS), Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), The Solar Foundation, SunPower, Sunrun, Tesla, and Vivint Solar.

These groups are active participants in the SolarAPP Campaign, a national initiative of The Solar Foundation and SEIA which 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.

— Solar Builder magazine

[source: https://solarbuildermag.com/news/soft-cost-reduction-on-the-way-nrel-developing-automated-solar-permitting-software/]

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