Clean energy systems for home and businesses take longer to install and cost more in the United States than in other developed countries. To reduce costs and delays for solar projects, we’re calling for a fundamental reshaping of solar permitting at the federal, state, and local levels. Here is our plan for Solar Automated Permit Processing (SolarAPP). Read the SolarAPP one-pager here.

Permitting and interconnection processes impose direct and indirect costs on home and business solar installations that are far higher in the United States than in other developed countries with robust solar markets. These costs include the direct cost of permit application, inspection, and interconnection fees, as well as indirect costs such as physical trips for permitting and inspections, completing and submitting permit applications, and the high cost of losing customers who are frustrated with long government or utility approval times.

Direct and indirect costs add about $7,000 ($1.00 per watt) to the cost of an average residential solar energy system. That’s roughly equal to the value of the 30% federal investment tax credit for solar, which is set to begin phasing out at the end of 2019.

The Solution: Build a Better Permitting System

The key to addressing these costs is to make solar installation straight-forward and routine while maintaining the safety and reliability of systems. Specifically, we propose standardized certification of installers and equipment, standardized online permitting and interconnection tools, and local implementation of instantaneous permitting for eligible installers on qualifying (i.e., non-complex) solar projects. Such actions would help hundreds of thousands more Americans to choose solar and batteries for their homes and businesses over the next five years.

Given this, our plan for Solar Automated Permit Processing (SolarAPP) seeks a fundamental reshaping of solar permitting at the federal, state, and local levels. Key elements of the proposed reformed process include:

  • Establishing a safety and skills training and certification that allows for residential and small commercial solar and battery storage installers to certify that projects are compliant with applicable codes, laws, and industry practices, obviating the need for a traditional multi-step permitting process;
  • Developing a simple, standardized, online platform – to be provided to local governments at no cost to them – for installers to easily “register” qualifying systems with local government authorities;
  • Establishing equipment standards and/or certified equipment lists for solar and storage projects installed through the proposed process;
  • Creating – or refining existing – system design standards for qualifying solar projects, and;
  • Establishing a program administrator to oversee and implement the activities described above, as well as:
    • Establish a model instantaneous permitting regime for home and small-commercial solar and battery storage systems installed by certified installers and contractors;
    • Provide technical assistance to state and local jurisdictions and utilities to recognize the certification and adopt the instantaneous permitting process;
    • Oversee the certification program for installers, issuing certifications, regularly update certification requirements such as training and skills tests, and engage in stakeholder processes to revise the building codes and safety standards upon which the certification is based, and;
    • Monitor and report on oversight and enforcement activities, including collecting data/incident reports from participating jurisdictions on project safety, performance, and compliance and sharing these through a public database created and maintained by the program administrator, as well as taking enforcement actions necessary for protecting health/safety/property and the integrity and value of the certification program.

Why Now?

Solar on homes and businesses has become mainstream in most states, with over 1.5 million U.S. solar customers. However, solar in the U.S. is a long way from realizing its full potential. American homes and businesses can become more resilient – and individuals can have greater freedom to choose how they meet their energy needs – while reducing the costs that all electric grid users share.

Solar on homes and businesses has become mainstream in most states, with over 1.5 million U.S. solar customers. However, solar in the U.S. is a long way from realizing its full potential. American homes and businesses can become more resilient – and individuals can have greater freedom to choose how they meet their energy needs – while reducing the costs that all electric grid users share.

What’s Possible – Cutting Over $2.2 billion of Red Tape, Saving Taxpayer Money

  • Save a typical homeowner more than $7,000 in red tape expenses on solar power systems.
  • Greater affordability and less red tape expand access to a wider range of income levels and new parts of the country.
  • Standardization and certification foster a culture of excellence among solar installation professionals and will boost confidence of consumers, building officials, and emergency responders in the quality and safety of systems.
  • Save taxpayer money by reducing staff time and costs associated with permit review and inspections at the local level.
  • Increase competitiveness and invigorate market opportunities across the solar value chain – including manufacturers, installers, developers, owners and operators – resulting in more American jobs.

How YOU Can Help

Achieving the SolarAPP vision will require sustained commitments from policy makers, the solar industry, and proponents of solar energy and defenders of the freedom of Americans to choose how they meet their energy needs. For more information on how you can support this effort, contact:

Andrea Luecke, President and Executive Director of The Solar Foundation (aluecke@solarfound.org), or

Justin Baca, Vice President of Markets and Research at Solar Energy Industries Association (jbaca@seia.org).