Clean Power

Published on August 21st, 2013 | by John Farrell


Local Permitting Makes A Bigger Difference As Solar Gets Cheap

August 21st, 2013 by  

This post originally appeared on ILSR’s Energy Self-Reliant States blog

Going solar keeps getting cheaper, but most of the cost savings have come from less expensive solar panels.  “Soft costs,” like permitting and inspections, are a rising share of the cost of a solar installation.  Several years ago, these permits could increase the cost of a residential solar project (then around $8.00 per Watt) by 5-10% , highlighted in a 2010 study by Sunrun. But as solar gets cheaper, permitting is going to be a much bigger problem.

A recent analysis by Lawrence Berkeley Labs [pdf] illustrates the benefits of streamlining solar permitting rules: it can cut the cost of a 2011 residential solar project (at $6.00 per Watt) by 5-13%, today’s (at $4.00 per Watt) by 8-19%, and tomorrow’s by as much as 40%!

chart solar cost and permitting 2013

The report confirms the earlier Sunrun study with a statistical analysis of actual solar permitting rules and the impact on final installation costs.  It also lends credence to streamlined permitting schemes (like Vermont‘s) and to the broader efforts to improve solar permitting, like Vote Solar’s Project Permit.

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About the Author

directs the Democratic Energy program at ILSR and he focuses on energy policy developments that best expand the benefits of local ownership and dispersed generation of renewable energy. His seminal paper, Democratizing the Electricity System, describes how to blast the roadblocks to distributed renewable energy generation, and how such small-scale renewable energy projects are the key to the biggest strides in renewable energy development.   Farrell also authored the landmark report Energy Self-Reliant States, which serves as the definitive energy atlas for the United States, detailing the state-by-state renewable electricity generation potential. Farrell regularly provides discussion and analysis of distributed renewable energy policy on his blog, Energy Self-Reliant States (, and articles are regularly syndicated on Grist and Renewable Energy World.   John Farrell can also be found on Twitter @johnffarrell, or at

  • Marion Meads

    Who gets the Federal Rebate for the installed panels? The homeowner or SolarCity? I rest my case oh wimpy toady.

    Practically many reports here in CleanTechnica have been touting solar panels having come down in price at $0.50 to $1/Watt. Either all of these reports are lying or you have to bow to my omnipresent knowledge that these prices have never passed by the greedy US solar pv installers down to retail.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Here is a site that will let you know where panels can be purchased at best prices.

      I’m posting a screen capture of today’s list of panels under $1/watt. Starting at 75c/W.

      • Marion Meads

        Bob has proven that I am all knowing pundit! Thanks Bob! What have you got to say shecky vegas? Lost all your money in vegas?

  • Marion Meads

    Solar only gets cheaper for the installers. Solar City for example hasn’t really lowered their prices to reality. The total unsubsidized cost before rebates is well over $6/Watt for residential installation. Their business model is not for you to buy solar panel, so they jack up the price of selling the panels to you, rather their business model is to fleece you out indefinitely after having the taxpayers rebate payoff their own cost of installation. Just imagine, 30% rebate of $6/watt is $1.80/Watt, which is the wholesale cost of installation, and in line with many exciting reports published here. In other words, through US taxpayers funding, the installation of solar panels by Solar City is practically free, and then you are billed, just a tad lower than your utility bill, and it is pure profit for them for life. I like their fleecing out business model, and investors love it too!

    I’d rather have my taxpayers money stop subsidies to companies like Solar City and other installers, and divert the money to provide free permitting services and help the DIY or their subcontractors in the proper design capacity and installation of solar panels. The solar panels should be bought at less than $1/watt.

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