NREL app speeds solar permitting process, study finds

An automated platform from NREL reduces the rooftop solar permit process by an average of 12 days.(Courtesy: Ricardo Gomez Angel/Unsplash)

Nobody likes waiting.

Rooftop solar is a business that relies on waiting for permits to be granted. Every day that passes without a permit can reduce profit margins and ruin the customer experience. These so-called soft cost can be a problem.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory spent years creating a tool that would automate the problem. SolarAPP+ is now ready to make its big debut.

SolarAPP+ has been able save 12 business days by integrating the platform’s web-based platform into permit management systems of local jurisdictions.

SolarAPP+ is an online portal that automates permit planning review. This allows for faster permit approvals for code-compliant residential solar PV systems. SolarAPP+ uses national fire, electrical, and building codes to perform a compliance check on permit inputs and produce an inspection checklist that can then be used to verify installation practices and adhere to the approved design.

NREL conducted a pilot control to validate SolarAPP+ performance. Pilot locations were chosen in Menifee, California, Pima County Arizona, Pleasant Hill, California and Stockton California.

Anne Hoskins (Sunrun’s chief policy officer) said, “It’s an all-around winner.”

NREL SolarAPP+ pilot study results

Sunrun supported NREL’s platform development, which also supports battery storage. Hoskins stated that individual companies have attempted (and failed) in the past to create a universal platform. SolarAPP+ can be used by any company or jurisdiction.

Hoskins stated that he doesn’t believe permitting is the right space to outperform competitors.

“In the last year, we have seen more companies come forward to discuss some of our larger policy challenges.” She stated that this is a recognition of how important policy is in the growth of the solar market.

NREL reports that 12 communities have already adopted SolarAPP+ in their area. There are more than 3500 permits issued through the platform. Another 100 communities expressed interest in SolarAPP+ and are currently integrating the platform into their existing systems.

This is the greatest challenge: there are thousands upon thousands of permitting jurisdictions. Sunrun, a national installer, must have jurisdictions to see that SolarAPP+ is available.

NREL stated that the residential solar PV market has increased from approximately 50,000 systems installed in 2010 to over 420,000 systems by 2020. Most of these systems required a building permit to be applied for by one of the more then 20,000 authorities.

NREL reported that the national average and median permit review times exceed five business days. They can sometimes take as long as a month in some areas. Many residential solar systems are also simple and standard, which allows software to automate the permitting process.

Jennifer Granholm, Energy Secretary, wrote a letter in September urging mayors to adopt the SolarAPP+ platform.

Hoskins stated, “At this point we’ve allowed over 500 SolarAPP+ projects and we’ve saved more than 5,000 days waiting to receive current approvals which is huge right?” “But that’s still a small number considering the amount of projects we have.

Find out more about SolarAPP+ by clicking here.

  • John Engel is the Renewable Energy World Content Director. John Engel has been a journalist for over ten years, covering news, sports, and politics across all media — print, radio, television, and digital. He lives in Asheville with his wife Malia.

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