Sunrise brief: Online tools target permitting, inspection, interconnection processes


Solar energy system developers and installers now have access to a tool designed to offer insight into permitting, inspection, and interconnection (PII) processes, which often add time, expense, and frustration to system deployment.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) developed the Solar Time-based Residential Analytics and Cycle time Estimator (Solar TRACE) online tool to increase transparency into PII processes, requirements, and overall adoption cycle times nationwide. Access Solar TRACE here.

Solar TRACE shows median cycle times for more than 700 jurisdictions with at least 10 installs in the dataset spanning 140 utilities and 28 states.

PII review and approval processes can sometimes add weeks or months to the installation process, along with higher install costs passed to homeowners. These longer wait times can increase the risks of cancellations, passing even higher costs to successful sales.

Users of the new tool will be able to compare PII timelines and requirements for any jurisdiction in the U.S. The tool is intended to allow contractors, homeowners, and others to estimate how long PII processes may take. It also can help identify PII-related improvements to streamline cycle times and potentially reduce PII-related costs and delays.

Solar TRACE shows median cycle times for more than 700 jurisdictions with at least 10 installs in the dataset spanning 140 utilities and 28 states. NREL developed Solar TRACE using industry-provided data from over 220,000 installations between 2017 and 2019, representing about 25% of total U.S. installs each year. NREL also collected PII requirements related to the install process, including whether jurisdictions process instant online applications, if they are SolSmart awardees, and whether utilities require interconnection approval prior to install.

Solar TRACE is released in conjunction with SolarAPP, or the Solar Automated Permit Processing platform. SolarAPP is a similar collaborative effort to develop an instant online permitting platform that any authority having jurisdiction in the U.S. can use to improve permitting efficiency and reduce labor costs. Access Solar APP here.

NREL is partnering with the Solar Energy Industries Association on a webinar series that summarizes analysis on the topic of PII, including Solar TRACE. The first webinar, scheduled for Wednesday, March 31, at 1 p.m. ET, will focus on NREL’s analysis and findings on the PII process and nationwide trends. The second, on Wednesday, April 14, at 1 p.m. ET, will showcase Solar TRACE and include a roundtable discussion with local governments, utilities, and installers on pathways to improving PII processes nationwide.

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