Another Effort to Cut Solar Prices: US Solar Permit National Database

Because solar permits are one of the most time-consuming and expensive aspects of the installation process, the Department of Energy’s (DOE) SunShot Initiative is focused on reducing those costs to significantly cut the price of solar.

A new database contributes to that effort. The National Solar Permitting Database seeks to streamline complex and time-consuming solar permitting processes by aggregating solar permit information and standards from around the US online – that way solar integrators can research requirements quickly online.

The project is spearheaded by Clean Power Finance and supported by a $3 million grant from the SunShot Initiative. Right now, the database is in prototype phase.

“Permitting is a widely recognized pain point in the solar sector, but we think this project can change that,” says James Tong, director of government programs management at Clean Power. “Collecting permitting information in a database that is available to all solar integrators without charge will dramatically improve time and cost savings for both solar professionals and AHJs and help lower the overall installed cost of solar.”

The database relies on solar professionals and municipalities submitting permitting information for the areas in which they operate – the more participation, the more comprehensive and useful the database will be.

So far, participating companies include Paramount Solar, SunWize Technologies, Next Step Living, B.E. Solar, PvPermits and Real Goods Solar, Inc. (Nasdaq: RSOL).

"We believe this program will help significantly in sorting out the confusion from numerous jurisdictions around the country, thereby reducing cycle time, design and administration costs," says John Schaeffer, founder and residential president at Real Goods, which contributed information covering 5,500 zip codes. "Ultimately, we will be able to set better expectations with customers, which will foster profitable growth in new solar markets.”

The project is also supported by a number of municipalities and third-party organizations such as Vote Solar and East Bay Corridor that are working regionally to accelerate permitting and standardize inspection processes.

“The current, state of solar permitting represents a challenge for everyone involved in the process, including municipalities, installers and homeowners looking to go solar. Municipalities faced with limited budgets and time, reduced staff and increasing demand for DG solar will also benefit from a smoother, more informed permitting process," says Carla Din, director of the East Bay Green Corridor.

This week DOE announced another effort to bring down the "soft costs" of solar. They launched a $10 million competition for teams that can reduce the costs of installing small solar systems to under $1 per watt.

Permitting and inspection costs currently add $0.50 per watt, or about $2500 to the total cost for the homeowner.

Clean Power Finance is one of the biggest players in the increasingly lucrative solar leasing business. In May, it announced the biggest solar fund created so far – $300 million for residential solar leases.

In June, DOE awarded $500,000 from SunShot for a web-based solar PV comparison-shopping platform. Commercial and residential property owners can solicit multiple price quotes from pre-screened, high-quality solar PV installers.

By reducing customer acquisition costs for installers, the platform could lower the price for custeroms by about 10%.

Another web-based platform also lowers costs by connecting project investors and banks together with solar developers that need project financing – a global hub for solar project funding.

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