Automated solar permitting speeds approval process


The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) unveiled a performance review of its newly launched SolarAPP+ after its first operational year. An increasing number of jurisdictions and installers actively participated in the program, submitting permits. 

Over the course of the year, 206 installers submitted 11,092 residential solar permits, which included 708 solar-plus-storage permits. These submissions represented 46% of all solar permit submissions at the local authority having jurisdiction (AHJ).

The pilot program, initially featuring 16 AHJs, expanded to include 31 by the end of 2022, as an additional 15 AHJs integrated the software.

SolarAPP+ expedites the approval process by providing immediate feedback on permit applications and granting instant approval when no issues are detected. This accelerated procedure allows for same-day permit issuance compared to the average week-long wait in participating AJHs. As a result, residential solar power projects pass local inspections up to thirteen days earlier than traditional projects.

The study, based on a statistically limited dataset, revealed a 17% inspection failure rate for SolarAPP+ projects, compared to a 24% failure rate for non-SolarAPP+ projects. This indicates a 29% higher inspection pass rate for projects employing SolarAPP+.

However, it’s worth noting that 11% of inspection failures in SolarAPP+ projects were due to the absence of the SolarAPP+ installation process list at the inspection site. NREL sees this as a simple issue to resolve as installers become more familiar with the SolarAPP+ process.

NREL humorously suggested that the lower inspection failure rate could be attributed to the specific installers who choose to use SolarAPP+, given the small sample size. Whether SolarAPP+ reduces inspection failures remains an open question.

Previous studies show that each local AHJ saved between 5,800 to 13,900 hours through the use of SolarAPP+, equivalent to the work of three to seven full-time staff members. These significant time savings have led to a decrease in solar permit fees, ranging from $6 to $250.

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