A PR company friend reached out recently to see if I was interested in talking with someone at a company that was working on improving the solar permitting process across the US. Knowing that solar permitting is one of the big chunks of rooftop solar “soft costs,” which are abnormally high in the US, I thought “well, this could be a bit useful” and agreed to the interview. I didn’t expect it to be especially interesting or groundbreaking, though. After all, the permitting process is highly decentralized and it’s the kind of stereotypical bureaucratic process that drives people nuts. As it turned out, however, what I was in store for was really exciting.
This new CleanTech Talk interview was with Amber D’Ottavio, Vice President of Product Management at Accela. While many of us have been asking, “How can we make solar permitting much faster, easier, and cheaper in the United States?,” NREL and Accela were getting to work making it happen. Someone apparently said, “We can make an app for that!”
I know, I know — another simple app isn’t going to solve the problem. But this isn’t just a simple app popping out of a co-working space in Silicon Valley, Austin, or Brooklyn. This is a truly exciting development, as I learned talking with Amber. I will summarize a bit further down below the podcast, but best is to listen to Amber talk about it all on CleanTech Talk.
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First of all, it’s important to know that Accela has a long, successful history providing cloud-based solutions for governments across the US. The company has the relationships and track record to open doors and make things happen. Amber herself has worked with thousands of different local and state government agencies.
Additionally, Accela partnered with the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL), which had done the earlier legwork on this, to launch SolarAPP+ (Solar Automated Permit Processing Plus). Naturally, being connected to NREL means you’ve got a nice scientific team backing you, or giving you a big boost or head start to get rolling.
Thirdly, Accela has been working closely with Tesla to identify pain points, bottlenecks, and solar installer needs in order to make the app as effective and efficient as possible.
The result: the Accela crew and their partners (NREL, Tesla, etc.) have been able to bring solar permitting processes that have been taking 2–8 weeks down to a matter of minutes.
What does this mean in terms of costs? Well, in some early work on this, Accela found that it could bring solar permitting costs down from $500 to $2500 in certain jurisdictions in California to $50 to $100.
“The software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution will be rolled out to 1,500 agencies at launch and made available at no cost to Accela’s current state and local customers and transform permitting timelines from an average of two weeks to instantaneous,” a press release published today states. Though, Amber clarified that not all of these agencies have rolled out the app by this point — they just all have it available to them now. CleanTechnica will get updates from them in the coming months and years as more jurisdictions put SolarPP+ into play.
Some of the initial places Accela is working to get SolarAPP+ launched include Charlotte County, Florida; Clark County, Nevada; the State of Oregon; and San Diego, California.
“Agencies across the country are increasingly looking for ways to speed up solar permitting to support local jobs, drive economic growth, and protect the environment,” said Tom Nieto, Chief Operating Officer at Accela. “We’re excited about partnering with NREL on this project, which aligns perfectly with our mission to deliver innovative SaaS solutions to improve efficiency, increase citizen engagement, and build thriving and resilient communities, for today and for the future.”
“Accela recognizes that it takes a complex ecosystem of government leaders, citizens, local businesses and technology partners to create smart cities,” said Dr. Jeffrey J. Cook, NREL’s SolarAPP+ Project Lead. “By integrating SolarAPP+, they’re demonstrating a commitment to providing cities and counties of all sizes with solutions to rebalance permitting workload and thereby unlock the immense economic opportunity available with home solar energy.”
“We’re excited to have an easy-to-use solution for our community that improves user experience for residents and agency staff alike through an instantaneous solar permitting process,” said Carla Blackwell, Director of Development Services at Pima County. “By leveraging SolarAPP+, our agency has been able to save valuable time, money, and human resources to process roughly 250 permits per month in the region.”
For much more, including some commentary regarding Amber’s experience working with Tesla and various government jurisdictions on how to create an ideal app for solar permitting, listen to the podcast.
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