Residential solar installers can cut permitting times with this NREL-built app


Launching later in July, the SolarAPP+ automated permitting software seeks to cut permit times and create a standardized permit process for residential rooftop solar. 

The Department of Energy and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory produced a paid software service that allows installers to enter project input data and receive an instant approval for their permit application. The tool could lead to a dramatic reduction in project time, as some jurisdictions can take three to four business weeks to approve permits, said NREL. 

The app, which was presented in a webinar hosted by the Solar Energy Industries Association automatically evaluates solar applications for safety and code compliance, and can be integrated into existing solar application software platforms. It also provides an inspection checklist as guidance for the application process. 

Pilot programs led to an average of 17.5 fewer business days for permits, and a range of four to 13.5 fewer business days in total install cycle times, said NREL. 

Currently, only jurisdictions that operate with codes of 2017 NEC or later and 2018 I-code or later can participate, including all of California, and more than 1,200 jurisdictions in 20 states.  

Dr. Jeff Cook, program lead for SolarAPP+ at NREL, said that solar plus energy storage will soon be available through the existing software platform as well.  

The SolarAPP+ charges $25 per approved application and allows for up to three corrected applications for free if mistakes are made. So far, in the pilot tests of Tucson, Arizona; Pima County, Arizona; and Pleasant Hill, California, jurisdictions have reduced their permit fees due to the ease of processing and have resulted in an average of $6 in savings even with the platform’s fee. 

Cook said there will be a learning curve in adopting the platform for permit application technicians, who will have more responsibility in entering single line diagram inputs into the platform. He said that with a spec sheet in hand, the permit application can be completed in as little as 15 minutes. 

Installer representatives from Sunrun, Tesla, and SunPower said that there have been learning curves in implementing the software in a pilot program, but said the benefits were numerous once their workforce got up to speed.  

Pilot program participants said that faster install times led to a smoother customer experience, which in turn led to a higher pull-through rate of projects. The app also freed up bandwidth for permit teams by automatically taking care of simpler projects, allowing teams to work on more complex applications.  

Keeping up with the multitudes of jurisdictional differences has been a heavy lift for national installers. The standardization that this tool is expected to drive eases the task of keeping a database of nuanced jurisdictional intel. 

The platform builds on NREL’s SolarTRACE resource, a database that identifies typical wait times for permits in more than 700 jurisdictions. 

The SolarAPP+ will be formally introduced by U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm on July 15 in an NREL-hosted webinar. 

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