DOE Kicks Off Summer of Solar 2021

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has kicked off the Summer of Solar 2021 with the nationwide launch of the Solar Automated Permit Processing Plus (SolarAPP+) tool—a free web-based platform that gives local governments the ability to expedite their review and approval of residential solar installation permits. Developed by DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), SolarAPP+ will drastically reduce barriers to solar deployment, spur community economic development, and advance the Biden-Harris Administration’s clean energy goals.

The cost of solar power has declined 90 percent over the past decade; however, the soft costs of solar installations remain the biggest barrier for many American families interested in solar energy—chief among them are the costs incurred by customers, contractors, and local governments by delays in obtaining rooftop solar installations permits.

Solar permitting processes vary widely across the country, with some customers waiting weeks to months to get approval and solar installers tend to avoid working in areas with difficult permit processes. SolarAPP+ solves this problem by providing solar contractors nationwide with a standardized, automated permitting process for residential installations. SolarAPP+ reviews solar project applications for building code compliance and instantly approves permits that meet the right specifications—making it easier and faster for local governments to process and issue permits. Local governments that fast-track permits, with programs similar to SolarAPP+, have been shown to increase residential solar installations by 600 percent.

The SolarAPP+ pilot program began in four communities throughout Arizona and California in the last year. Since then, all four communities—Tucson, Arizona; Pima County, Arizona; Menifee, California; and Pleasant Hill, California—have launched SolarAPP+ with great results. In Tucson, for example, SolarAPP+ reduced permitting reviews from approximately 20 business days to zero. Across the country, 25 percent of projects take more than 2 weeks to permit, and 5 percent of projects take more than a month.

SolarAPP+ automatically conducts code compliance checks to ensure safety and generates a standardized inspection checklist for installers and inspectors to use to verify compliance in the field. The tool’s compliance reviews are based on the international model codes that nearly half of the country’s permitting authorities use, including the 2017 National Electrical Code, so that applications are compliant from the start.

At the start of Summer 2021, the country hit significant solar milestones achieving more than 100 gigawatts (GW) of installed solar capacity and 3 million solar installations nationwide. To build on this significant growth, DOE is launching the Summer of Solar campaign to educate the public about solar energy and to support a new DOE goal to get commitments from 125 local governments to sign up to learn more about SolarAPP+ by the end of September 2021.

NREL developed SolarAPP+ in collaboration with building safety officials and solar industry leaders, including the International Code Council, International Association of Electrical Inspectors, and UL. NREL has signed a memorandum of understanding with UL to manage and deploy the software by 2023. The DOE Solar Energy Technologies Office is funding the development of the tool.

Source: U.S. Department of Energy

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