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U.S. counties that are closer to traffic or higher concentrations of diesel pollution tend to have greater opportunity for residential rooftop solar. Photo by Dennis Schroeder, NREL.

Clean Power

Safer, Faster, Cheaper Rooftop Solar: How SolarAPP+ Is Cutting Through Bureaucracy To Boost Solar Deployment

More than half a million residential solar systems were installed in the United States in 2021, representing a 30% year-over-year uptick in installed solar capacity. This is great news for households looking to both stabilize and lower their energy costs, but for the thousands of local jurisdictions responsible for permitting and inspecting each and every system to ensure code compliance, this flood of new projects can quickly become a bureaucratic nightmare.

Enter SolarAPP+, an innovative and no-cost digital tool that helps to eliminate permitting wait times for residential solar and solar + storage permits. While it might take days or weeks for a local official to manually review a permit application, SolarAPP+ automates the process and enables contractors to upload system specifications and get instant approval for code-compliant projects.

Developed over the last 2+ years by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and several industry partners, SolarAPP+ recently completed its first year in the field, and the platform’s stellar performance review makes it clear that it’s ready for a promotion.

Since its launch in May 2021, SolarAPP+ saved more than 3,000 hours of staff time while resulting in projects that are more likely to pass inspections and are completed on shorter timelines. Nearly 400 jurisdictions indicated interest in SolarAPP+, and 13 localities in Arizona and California processed more than 7,600 permits using the platform.

NREL’s performance review focuses on 10 jurisdictions using SolarAPP+ and then compares the platform against conventional permitting systems. The median permit review time for traditional projects was nine days across these jurisdictions, and as high as 24 days in Tucson, AZ. A SolarAPP+ application takes about 15 minutes to complete, bringing total review time to less than 1 hour.

A one-week project delay results in a 5–10% client cancellation rate. These cancellations drive up costs for other customers and unnecessarily inflate the cost of residential solar. This makes streamlining and standardizing permits a critical part of building momentum for residential solar and expanding solar accessibility.

In addition to easing paperwork burdens, SolarAPP+ helps to free up local government staff and preserve limited staff resources to focus on more complex project applications.

Most importantly, the time and money saved does not come at the expense of safety. In fact, the performance review found that SolarAPP+ projects are 37% less likely to fail final inspections than traditional projects.

The benefits of using SolarAPP+ are stacking up, and many states are taking notice.

California recently launched an incentive program for cities and counties to adopt SolarAPP+, providing grants and assistance for the onboarding process. In May 2022, Bloomberg highlighted how SolarAPP+ is cutting through a “crazy jurisdictional patchwork” of permitting rules, helping to get clean energy online faster. And the software was even honored with a World Changing Idea Award by Fast Company in May.

Rooftop solar enables households and businesses across the country to lower their energy costs and join in the clean energy movement. Outdated and confusing permitting processes remain a major barrier to that progress, but SolarAPP+ offers a simple, no-cost solution for jurisdictions looking to safely speed clean energy adoption while cutting red tape.

To learn more, register for the International Code Council’s webinar on July 21, 2022 featuring local officials with firsthand experience implementing the SolarAPP+ platform.

By SEIA Comms Team

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