National Permitting for Solar Installations Would Significantly Reduce Cost

Before a solar system is installed on a home, installers must go through a permitting and inspection process that adds $0.50 per watt, or about $2500 to the total cost for the homeowner.

Standardized local permitting would bring the cost of solar to grid parity for 50% of American homes by 2013. It would close Germany’s 40% cost advantage, while delivering the equivalent of a new $1 billion solar subsidy over five years.

While prices for solar panels have dropped significantly, as well as installation costs thanks to more efficient practices, permitting costs remain fixed. 

Permit fees, time to complete and file paperwork and processing delays, all contribute to costs and are determined locally.

One solar firm told the NY Times that 15 of its employees are dedicated solely to researching and tailoring permit applications to meet the bureaucratic idiosyncrasies of the dozens of towns in the company’s market.

Using a standard application form nationally would streamline the process, says Rob Cahill, manager of business development at SunRun.

The total installed cost of residential solar is falling more slowly than equipement costs because of inefficient local permitting.
This makes it harder for the industry to achieve parity with conventional forms of energy.

The Department of Energy (DOE) has developed the tools to quickly streamline local permitting and inspection processes without sacrificing safety.

Permitting costs are high because of wide variations in processes, most of which do not improve safety; Excessive fees; and slow, manual submittal and inspection processes.

Permitting costs are equivalent to a $1 billion tax on solar over the next five years, and make it hard for installers to achieve any economies of scale.

Countries like Germany and Japan have eliminated permitting for residential solar.

A streamlined, consistent process for basic installations, like the Common Application for colleges, would eliminate waste and variability across jurisdictions, while meeting code and ensuring safety. 

DOE should launch a Residential Solar Permitting Initiative:

• Create a contest that rewards jurisdictions for improving permitting in key solar states.
• Fund outreach organizations like DOE’s Solar America Communities Outreach Partnership.
• Target DOE’s 25 Solar America Cities and 200 other high-volume cities.
• Build an online Common Application tool and grade jurisdictions’ progress.

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