CleanTechnica is the #1 cleantech-focused
website
 in the world.


Clean Power SiliconPVCosts

Published on March 8th, 2013 | by Andrew

3

“Solar Freedom Now” Unveils Plan For Cutting Red Tape, Solar PV Soft Costs 50%

Share on Google+Share on RedditShare on StumbleUponTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on FacebookPin on PinterestDigg thisShare on TumblrBuffer this pageEmail this to someone

March 8th, 2013 by
 
Permitting, zoning, financing, contracting, installation, hooking up to the grid, and maintenance — the so-called “soft” costs of powering a home, office or business with solar energy — account for as much as 40% of the total installed cost of a solar photovoltaic (PV) system, according to the Department of Energy’s Rooftop Solar Challenge.

A comparison of 2010 solar installation balance of systems (non-hardware) costs with SunShot Initiative 2020 goals. These figures represent preliminary estimates based on ongoing NREL data collection efforts. Source: NREL/DOE

A comparison of 2010 solar installation balance of systems (non-hardware) costs with SunShot Initiative 2020 goals. These figures represent preliminary estimates based on ongoing NREL data collection efforts. Image Credit: NREL/DOE

Aiming to cut the red tape and streamline the solar PV system installation process, Solar Freedom Now (SFN), “a grass roots initiative to make solar power more affordable and accessible for all Americans,” on March 4 released, “A Roadmap for Reducing Solar Costs by 50%.” As SFN states in a press release, its “goal is to make 2013 the year of eliminating the paperwork and red tape that burdens solar installations.”

Solar PV Soft Costs & The Permitting Labyrinth

With solar PV hardware costs — the cost of producing solar PV cells and modules — plummeting some 70% from 2009–2012, the Obama Administration, state and local governments, industry participants, and solar energy advocates have all launched initiatives to bring down the soft costs of having solar PV systems installed.
SiliconPVCosts

Obtaining permission and approval to have a solar PV system installed in the US involves navigating through a hodgepodge of local, state, and federal government processes and agencies, solar energy advocates assert, SFN among them. Further complicating the process may be the need to gain local community approval.

That’s a familiar refrain and industry tactic, one that’s pretty much axiomatic for those opposing increased government regulation and bureaucratic bloat. That doesn’t mean such claims aren’t valid or obviate the need to consider such criticism in light of the overall nature and effects of the activities involved — in this instance, fostering the transition to a clean energy infrastructure and low-carbon society.

More than 1 in 3 solar PV installers avoid selling solar in an average of 3.5 areas due to associated permitting difficulties, according to a nationwide study of solar PV system permitting released by Clean Power Finance in December, 2012.

“The study, the largest of its kind to date, provides quantifiable evidence of the negative effects complex permitting regulations have on U.S. solar installers and also on the authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs), including municipalities and utilities, who oversee permitting processes.”

Furthermore, Clean Power Finance researchers found that permitting varies widely across the US, typically involving 2–5 distinct agencies, each with their own requirements and processes. While it typically takes just 14.25 hours for workers to install a home solar PV system, nearly 8 work weeks are required on average to navigate the permitting process. The report authors state:

“Because installers typically make a large upfront equipment purchase, permitting processes can tie up thousands of dollars for almost two months or force installers to use credit, both of which can impede installer profitability or force them to pass on additional costs to consumers.

“Clean Power Finance undertook the study as part of preparations for the launch of the National Solar Permitting Database, a free, online database of permitting requirements from across the US that is funded in part by a Clean Power Finance and in part by a Department of Energy SunShot Initiative.”

Rationalizing Regulation Across Local-State-Federal Levels

The “labyrinth” of federal, state, and local regulations and agencies governing activities all across the socioeconomic and environmental spheres are an inheritance from the US Founding Fathers, a compromise solution meant to assure strong local and state voice and representation by counterbalancing a centralized, federal government.

While this is meant to push authority and decision-making down to the local level, imbuing the US political system with diversity, strength, and resiliency, it also can result in a costly and confusing mix of overlapping, and at times redundant and conflicting, regulations and processes – in a word: inefficiency.

All the red tape makes having a solar PV system installed in the US an inefficient, costly, time-consuming, and frustrating process, according to solar PV advocates. Other representative democracies with federal systems of government, though smaller, have been able to streamline the bureaucratic process by rationalizing local, state, and federal regulatory structures.

German homeowners, for instance, pay only half as much as their US counterparts to have solar PV systems installed, Solar Freedom Now (SFN) notes, with research indicating that the large discrepancy “is due to the high ‘soft costs’ in the US – local permitting, complicated incentive documentation, exhaustive interconnection requirements, multiple inspection and all the extra time this red tape requires.”

“In order to lower the price of a solar system, it’s easier to find a way to cut red tape by 20% than to find another 20% in incentives or reduced equipment costs,” SFN co-founder Ron Kenedi asserts. “Eliminating the paperwork and red tape is the industry’s biggest cost saving opportunity.”

Moreover, this paper and procedural blizzard continues to expand despite best efforts to reduce the burden, according to SFN.

“Like a nationwide game of mutant ‘whack a mole’ – regulations and requirements are expanding. With 18,443 cities, 3,273 utilities and 50 states – all of which have some jurisdiction over rooftop solar systems – localized efforts to simplify solar installation paperwork are not scalable across the country. This paperwork is a brick wall impeding the solar industry’s cost reduction goals.”

The Solution: A Single National Policy Standard

What’s the solution? For starters, SFN recommends “the implementation of a single national policy that would grant homeowners the right to install a standardized, under 10 kW (kilowatt) system, using UL-listed components, following National Electrical Code standards, installed by a qualified contractor and subject to a single local inspection.”

“Who wouldn’t want to generate electricity on the roof of their own house? But the costs are kept artificially high because of all the ridiculous paperwork and red tape,” another SFN co-founder, Barry Cinnamon, commented.

“Cutting this red tape is a message that appeals to both sides of the political aisle, and will help the solar industry grow even faster without the need for additional incentives.”

Keep up to date with all the hottest cleantech news by subscribing to our (free) cleantech newsletter, or keep an eye on sector-specific news by getting our (also free) solar energy newsletter, electric vehicle newsletter, or wind energy newsletter.

Print Friendly

Share on Google+Share on RedditShare on StumbleUponTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on FacebookPin on PinterestDigg thisShare on TumblrBuffer this pageEmail this to someone

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


About the Author

I've been reporting and writing on a wide range of topics at the nexus of economics, technology, ecology/environment and society for some five years now. Whether in Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Americas, Africa or the Middle East, issues related to these broad topical areas pose tremendous opportunities, as well as challenges, and define the quality of our lives, as well as our relationship to the natural environment.



  • wattleberry

    Perhaps, if the red-tape procedure is cheaper in Germany, it is linked to its healthier public finance system, eliminating the typical desperation in many other administrations to invent as many public-sector income sources as possible to try reduce their deficits? Another example of a crisis in this area somehow being passed to Joe Public once again to put right, damaging his ability to improve the environment.

  • http://www.facebook.com/matthew.t.peffly Matthew Todd Peffly

    What you mean that the down under approach? Meet simple requirements, use listed parts, and qualified installer, an no permit needed? No I guess not that far, but moving in right direction.

    “the implementation of a single national policy that would grant homeowners the right to install a standardized, under 10 kW (kilowatt) system, using UL-listed components, following National Electrical Code standards, installed by a qualified contractor and subject to a single local inspection.”

  • JMin2020

    Thanks for the post Andrew. A little sanity please. The inspectots and city and state officials and inspectors are already drawing a pay check as are the politicians in office. Why keep penalizing a home owner that just wants to reduce their energy bill by adding solar if possible to their home improvement list of desireable upgrades and improvements like insulation and energy eficcient winfows and toilets etc. We generally get rewarded for such. Not taxed. If taxed in will be. SHOW me the REBATE !!

Back to Top ↑