The US Residential Solar Permit Decisions Expected To Be Fast-Tracked With The New NREL App

The US Department of Energy's (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) released the much-awaited Solar Automated Permit Processing Plus (SolarAPP+) which is an online solar permitting platform on May 12th, 2021.

App Functions

This $1.8 million worth app has been developed by NREL with funding from DOE as well as various other industry giants including Sunrun, SunPower, and Tesla. SolarAPP+ will provide an automated, standardized permitting process to solar contractors in the US for residential installations.

In addition to accepting and processing applications, the app can also check those applications for regulatory compliance and errors. It can automatically approve permits in jurisdictions that opt for fully implementing the software, which means it can reduce the permitting process duration to a matter of days or even minutes. Currently, the process takes an average of 2 weeks.

Streamlining the Permission Process

A few large cities with rapidly growing solar markets have already embraced the automated solar permitting process, and COVID-19 has only accelerated this trend. However, communities with smaller budget found the developmental costs associated with creating such a platform prohibitive.

It is estimated that the delays in solar permitting cost American ratepayers approximately $5 million every day. This prompted NREL to assemble partners to create an automated platform to streamline the permitting process across the country in 2018.

SolarAPP+ is expected to fast-track solar deployment nationwide, just like it did in San Jose, California, which saw a 6-fold boost in solar installations after implementing an online permitting process.

The vice president of product management at Accela, Amber D’Ottavio, reported that SolarAPP+ has reduced the permitting processes from up to 8 weeks to 1-2 days in cities that participated in the pilot program. Accela makes the software that aids government functions like building inspections and permits, and is assimilating SolarAPP+ into their own processes.

The Scope of the App Set to Expand

Around 250 applications a month are already being processed by the Pima County, Arizona thanks to the app. Cities have generally chosen to have the SolarAPP+ applications evaluated manually after the initially adopting the app, but with time, more communities are expected to shift to completely automated approval as they learn how the app works and that it can be trusted for its accuracy.

As of right now, SolarAPP+ can process and automatically approve residential solar licenses in cities that use the 2017 version of the National Electrical Code. This represents roughly 80% of the current market when SolarAPP+ launched in May 2021. The app’s website went live on May 12th, and displays a complete list of jurisdictions where the software is available for use by approved solar contractors. Other cities are expected to start adopting the app beginning in June.

NREL has made it clear that they want to add support for the new 2020 electrical code and several other new features like permitting for interconnection applications, virtual inspections, and home energy storage systems. NREL is also working on expanding the commercial rooftop permits, although support for utility-scale systems is not a priority as of yet.