In a recent roundtable, U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm and leaders from top solar companies introduced the official launch of SolarAPP+, an automated residential rooftop solar permit approval system.
Secretary Granholm said the platform allows a user to fill out a permit application in as little as 15 minutes, and approvals come instantly. This is a big change from an average of roughly 20 business days for approval to zero, she said.
On the roundtable, Sec. Granholm celebrated the fact that the U.S. has doubled solar deployment in the last 3.5 years, and recently hit significant deployment milestones of 100 GW of solar, and 3 million installations. The industry has seen an 80% reduction in utility scale solar costs as well. Despite all this progress, Sec. Granholm said recent heatwaves, wildfires, and other climate related catastrophes necessitate an urgent ramp-up of more solar energy deployment.
This is the aim of SolarAPP+; to spur faster deployment through lower wait times, lower costs to homeowners and solar developers, and centralized process for permitting. There is a cost of $25 per approved permit, but in many early trials, jurisdictions have subsequently lowered their permit fees due to the benefit of saved time, leading to an average of $6 in savings per project.
Sec. Granholm said this cutting of red tape is going to be instrumental in realizing greater deployment and savings. She said an estimated $16 million in wasted energy savings was lost by homeowners due to extended permit times last year. Plus, the arduous process of permitting has barred many small solar businesses from setting up shop, said Sec. Granholm.
Now, SolarApp+ can handle about 90% of solar permits in most jurisdictions, tackling simpler projects, and freeing up time for jurisdictions to focus on more complex building permits that are already clogging their pipelines.
Lynn Jurich, CEO of Sunrun attended the conference, noting that distributed residential rooftop solar is one of the fastest ways the country can achieve its climate related goals. She said that 10,000 homes with solar and storage are equivalent to a 100 MW power plant. And, from a carbon perspective, homes will need to be increasingly electrified, so meeting power demand at-home will work in concert will large scale deployment. Currently, Sunrun is the 2nd largest holder of solar in the U.S., including utilities, so speeding the residential sector will continue to drive healthy competition.
Jurich said that in Australia and parts of Europe, 20-25% of rooftops are covered in solar PV, compared roughly to 3% in the U.S. A top reason for this, according to Jurich, is that their processes are more streamlined, and less costly, and programs like SolarAPP+ exist in other nations.
Sec. Granholm has set a goal of 125 jurisdictions to sign up for the program by September 30th. Officials from Stockton, CA, Tucson, AZ, and Montgomery County, MD attended the rountable, praising the success of the program in their communities thus far.
The “plus” in SolarAPP+ indicates that energy storage permitting will soon be added to software as well.
Jurisdictions interested in taking on this initiative to save time in their approvals departments, and solar companies looking for faster install times can navigate to https://solarapp.nrel.gov/ to get started.
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