While small-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) installations are steadily growing as a viable renewable energy solution, inefficient and sometimes outdated municipal regulations can limit cost-effective project completion. Despite more than 40 years of successful presence in the electricity market, solar PV remains hindered by complex and restrictive permitting scenarios resulting from a lack of familiarity, rapidly evolving technology, and non-standard regulations and approval processes. An efficient and standardized permitting process would help promote an increase of new PV installations with production capacities under 10 kilowatts (kW).
Solar America Board for Codes and Standards (Solar ABCs) Expedited Permit Process for PV Systems
Solar ABCs is “…a collaborative effort funded by the U.S. Department of Energy that dedicates experts to transforming solar markets by improving building codes, utility interconnection procedures, and product standards, reliability, and safety, and is part of its overall strategy to reduce barriers to the adoption of solar technologies and to stimulate market growth.” American cities from the East Coast to the West Coast have used Solar ABCs’ guidance to improve PV permitting and installations regulations. Solar ABCs’ report, Expedited Permit Process for PV Systems, presents a step-by-step guide to quickly and easily expedite permitting for qualified solar PV installations.
Benefits for Jurisdictions and Installers
Uniform Permit Application Template: Much like a common application for college admissions—a form that is accepted by universities across the United States as a method for processing high volumes of applications at lowest cost—Solar ABCs offers a standardized solar PV permit application to expedite permitting for PV installations with production capacities under 10kW. By utilizing a standard template that is adaptable to local jurisdictional requirements, Solar ABCs expedited permit eliminates inefficiency and accelerates permitting while maintaining strict controls on installation safety and quality.Adaptability to Local Conditions: A key feature of the Solar ABCs expediting process is its adaptability to local conditions, rules, and constraints. Some communities have embraced all of Solar ABCs permitting guidelines including acceptance of online permit applications and implementation of uniform plan templates. Others have selectively applied key aspects of the process that apply to a specific jurisdiction. Both approaches are valid and both reduce inefficiency and increase solar PV deployment.
Focus on Small Scale Systems: Solar ABCs’ permitting guidelines have been successful because of their focus on small-scale solar PV systems. The expedited permit process was specifically designed to address the unique electrical conditions found in typical residential settings, of which 90% have electrical service panels of 200 amps or less, and the requirements of corresponding building, structural, electrical, and fire safety codes. Conventional wisdom sets the limit of small-scale solar PV systems at 10 kW; the technical limit identified by Solar ABCs is 13.44 kW. In either case, many commercial offices also match this electrical profile, which increases the potential for high volume, small-scale solar PV.
Complete Tool Kit: Solar ABCs provides tools, templates, and reference materials that can be used by virtually any jurisdiction. Solar ABCs’ Fill-In Forms can be used online, printed for off line completion, or edited, adapted, and customized to suits a particular jurisdiction’s needs.
Cities around country, from Philadelphia, Penn., to San Jose, Calif., have already adopted the Solar ABCs process. If your community has a Solar ABCs success story, please Contact Us and we’ll post it here.
Solar 3.0 offers PV Installation Requirements and Codes workshops and webinars on the topic of streamlining the Permitting Process. Check the Events Calendar for dates and locations.
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Solar PV Permitting Resources
The Interstate Renewable Energy Council is a good place to start. The Interstate Renewable Energy Council, Inc. (IREC), a non-profit organization accelerating the use of renewable energy since 1982, has been a leading resource for city and county building officials by providing field inspection guidelines and workshops. The Sharing Success: Emerging Approaches to Efficient Solar Rooftop Permitting (May 2012) report is another valuable tool to help jurisdictions ensure safe solar installations in their community. To read the full report, click here. IREC also offers a two-page guidance document on drafting solar permitting guidelines.
Vote Solar and its partners are building an interactive solar permit fee map to help communities around the country understand permitting practices for small-scale solar projects. The site includes best practices and offers state-level reports for Pennsylvania, Arizona, and Colorado.
IREC and Vote Solar offer a Best Practices guide for the solar permitting process.
Clean Power Finance hosts the National Solar Permitting Database (NSPD). The database provides an accessible online location for installers, inspectors, Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJs), and other stakeholders to submit and search solar permitting requirements for locations across the United States.
Larger jurisdictions have the unique challenge of letting the general public know where, and under what name, to look for solar permitting support. The county of San Diego, Calif., developed this regional jurisdiction chart to reduce confusion for contractors working in a large region comprised of many jurisdictions. Miami-Dade County offers a compiled list of helpful links related to county permitting resources. This one-stop resource is a good example of how jurisdictions can provide a centralized list as a stand-alone PDF, a webpage, or both.