When I was young, I learned about America from watching TV, and as a result, I assumed that the United States didn’t have much in the way of rules or regulations. After all, most justice appeared to be dispensed by Batman, and villains seemed to be released from jail just about every week. As a result of this education, I thought that Americans weren’t too concerned about enforcing laws and loved freedom too much to keep anyone locked up for long. But eventually I grew too old to believe in Batman (sometime in the middle of last year) and was surprised to learn that the US has just as many laws and regulations as any other developed country.
In fact, there’s one area where the US has a lot more regulation than countries like Australia and Germany, and that’s when it comes to installing rooftop solar. Permits appear to be required for almost every solar installation in America, while Down Under we hardly ever need one. To me, it just seems odd that people are required to ask for permission to have professionally installed solar put on their own roof. After all, it’s a PV system, not a pet lion. It’s not likely to leap off the roof and eat someone.
Now, personally, I would have thought that Australia would be the place to require permits rather than the US. After all, we’ve gone in for some strange laws and regulations in the past. I’m originally from Queensland, which is a state where it used to be illegal for a man to dress as a woman. We also used to send inspectors around to poultry farms, chicken police basically, to make sure that farmers didn’t have more chickens than they were legally entitled to. Police used to attend comedy shows to arrest comedians for swearing. And if you don’t understand how weird that is, then you’ve obviously never been to @!$#*&% Australia.
Permitting costs are a serious problem in the US. According to one study, they increase the cost of rooftop solar by 20 cents a watt. That’s $600 for a three-kilowatt system, the most common size for new solar in Australia. Permitting also causes huge delays. It can take months for Americans to get rooftop solar installed, while in Australia, installation often takes less than a week. Permitting requirements are so bad in some parts of the United States that solar installers simply don’t go there.
So I suggest that America do what Australia and Germany have done — make permits unnecessary for most installations. Now, America is a big place, and there may be areas where they are already doing this. If so, do it more.
This is not to suggest that here in Australia we’re all living in some sort of red-tape-free, bureaucratic-interferenceless wonderland. Well, yes, it is a wonderland, but it’s no bed of rose -petal-fattened possums. We have our own problems here. For example, I recently investigated Adelaide City Council’s requirements for installing rooftop solar, and let me tell you, getting through them was a tough job. First, I had to wait a fraction of a second for them to download. And then, once they were finally downloaded, I saw that the guide was a whole page long and there were over 300 words for me to slog through. But I persevered.
Under the heading “Will you need approval?” it sets out the conditions that must be met for permitless home solar installation. They are, and I quote:
Development approval will be required if the total weight of the solar panels exceeds 100 kg unless:
* the weight of the panels is distributed so that it does not exceed 100 kg at any one point of attachment to the roof
* the panels, and any part of its associated components, do not overhang any part of the roof
* the panels are fitted parallel to the roof with their underside surface located no more than 100 mm above the surface of the roof.
The solar system must also be installed by an installer accredited by the State Government.
And that’s it. As long as those requirements are met, you can call up an installer and get rooftop solar without any need for a permit. If the installer isn’t busy, they could even do it the next day.
If Australia and Germany can have permit-less installations for most rooftop solar, then so can the United States. America, I call upon you to rise up and cast off the shackles of mandatory permitting for professionally installed rooftop solar, and stride into the new dawn of low-cost distributed solar power. For it is a rising sun that I see, not a setting one.
Ronald Brakels lives in Adelaide, South Australia. Now that his secret identity has been revealed he is free to admit he first became interested in renewable energy after environmental mismanagement destroyed his home planet of Krypton. He is keenly interested in solar energy and at completely random intervals will start talking to himself about, "The vast power of earth's yellow sun."