Homes with rooftop solar. Photo by Werner Slocum, NREL.

160 Communities Now Automating Solar Permitting with SolarAPP+

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More than 160 communities in the United States are now using Solar Automated Permit Processing Plus (SolarAPP+™), a free, online software platform for local governments that standardizes, streamlines, and automates the solar permitting process. The platform has helped local governments approve more than 32,800 projects, saving more than 33,000 hours of permitting staff time without sacrificing safety or code compliance.

Reaching the target of a 100% carbon-free electricity grid by 2035 will require two to three times the current rate of solar deployment. Unintentional roadblocks — such as permits waiting in a queue to be approved — present challenges to the residential rooftop PV market by increased compliance costs and installation timelines.

Funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO), the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) developed SolarAPP+ in collaboration with the solar industry, code organizations, the building safety community, and local governments. SolarAPP+ makes it easier and faster for jurisdictions to issue permits for residential rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) systems and solar-plus-storage systems.

“SolarAPP+ ensures solar projects meet code requirements, enhancing safety while significantly shortening cycle time and accelerating the trajectory towards our climate goals,” said Mark Rodriguez, executive director of the SolarAPP+ Foundation, which will be responsible for SolarAPP+’s long-term stewardship.

SolarAPP+ Adopted in More States as Platform Becomes More Accessible 

With a recent surge in interest from local governments, 160 communities across 10 states are using SolarAPP+ as of December 2023. Maryland, Colorado, Iowa, Oklahoma, Virginia, and Wisconsin are the latest states to have communities start using SolarAPP+.

“SolarAPP+ is saving our customers time and money, reducing our staff workload, and helping San Francisco with our goal of transitioning to 100% renewable electricity by 2025 and 100% renewable energy by 2040,” said San Francisco Department of Building Inspection Director Patrick O’Riordan. “It has also been another step in our ongoing efforts to modernize our operations and make our permitting processes easier and more customer friendly.”

Following a development roadmap and taking feedback from adopting communities, the SolarAPP+ team is continuing to improve and expand the software’s functionality with regular updates. SolarAPP+ can now permit PV systems that include battery storage and the recently released SolarAPP+ application programming interface (API) makes it easier for SolarAPP+ to integrate with commonly used government software platforms, further improving the accuracy of code compliance checks.

Automated Permitting Could Be Key to Further Reducing Residential Solar Costs

Solar permitting can cause a major bottleneck for residential solar installations, adding weeks or even months to adoption timelines and thousands of dollars to the customer price tag. A survey of PV installers suggests many installers either avoid communities with burdensome permitting requirements or charge a 10%-20% price premium. SolarAPP+ helps make workloads more manageable for local government staff by significantly cutting the time spent processing rooftop solar permits without sacrificing safety or code compliance. For homeowners, SolarAPP+ can reduce lengthy permitting delays by approving permits instantly for qualified systems and letting customers start saving money on energy bills even sooner.

In recent industry interviews for NREL’s 2023 PV cost benchmark report, a separate NREL research team found that “in the residential sector, one of the most frequently mentioned ways to reduce costs was by increased adoption of SolarAPP+.”

“We are very proud of the impacts SolarAPP+ has had,” said Jeff Cook, SolarAPP+ Program Lead at NREL. “The rapid adoption by local governments across the country proves that safe, automated permitting is not only possible, but delivers immense benefits to local governments, homeowners,  and contractors. We encourage all communities to consider piloting SolarAPP+ to see what it can do for you.”

SolarAPP+ is available free to jurisdictions and is supported by administrative fees paid by installers. Learn more about how it works and register your jurisdiction to use SolarAPP+ today.

Article from U.S. DOE.

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