SolarAPP residential solar permitting app to launch this fall


The National Renewable Energy Laboratory is “pushing toward” widespread release in October for SolarAPP, a web-based tool that local governments may adopt to speed permitting of residential solar installations. The October launch goal was announced by Jeff Cook, leader of the SolarAPP development project at NREL, in a webinar.

The tool will be free to local governments, and will be funded by “a small fee” paid by solar contractors, an NREL spokesperson said. The app evaluates solar applications for safety and code compliance, and delivers automated instant plan review, and permit approval or rejection based on code compliance, Cook said.

SolarAPP was proposed in 2018 by the Solar Energy Industries Association and the Solar Foundation to reduce the “soft costs” of residential solar; NREL is working with those groups and other partners, shown at right, to develop the app.

A solar contractor using the SolarAPP tool, in a jurisdiction that is using it, would type into an online form information related to a residential solar project’s safety and code compliance. To enable contractors to import project data into the app, rather than type it in, NREL plans to develop a contractor API.

The current version of SolarAPP reflects the requirements of the 2017 National Electrical Code (NEC) and the 2018 International Building Code and International Residential Code. NREL is working to upgrade the app to also support the 2020 NEC, for local governments using that version.

NREL also plans to upgrade SolarAPP to enable it to process residential energy storage permit applications.

SolarAPP “creates uniformity and takes away some of the unknown factors that contractors may run into when working with different jurisdictions,” said Oscar Diaz, chief building official with the City of Modesto, California, in comments during NREL’s webinar.

Diaz has pilot-tested SolarAPP, and said that his office previously created a spreadsheet “that made all the calculations based on inverters and panels that [a contractor] selected, but it was labor-intensive to keep that database updated” with the latest information on panels and inverters. “Having NREL run that software is going to be a huge time-saver.”

The City of Oceanside, California processes 1800 solar permits per year, out of 5,000 building permits overall, said Steve Jones, assistant building official with the city, who has also pilot-tested SolarAPP. When he assigns a plan checker to review PV plans, “they’re being removed from some of these more difficult jobs to do PV plan reviews,” he said. “If I could use the app to get through 150 [PV plans] a month, that would be a great relief for my staff.”

NREL is now recruiting another 10-20 local governments to participate in a further round of pilot testing of SolarAPP, between now and October.

NREL plans to hand over management of SolarAPP to an outside contractor by year-end. SolarAPP is an acronym for solar automated permit processing.

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