National forum launches to solve solar + storage codes, permitting challenges

committee brainstorm

Solar and storage technology has come a long way, and now it’s time for the permitting process catch up.

Clear and comprehensive procedures defining permitting, inspection and other requirements for solar and solar-plus-storage projects are essential to ensure the safety and quality of installed systems. A newly launched, three-year project, supported by a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office, will be working on solutions to solar and solar-plus-storage code enforcement and permitting challenges while advancing public safety objectives.

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What’s encouraging about this news is the stakeholders involved. The project will significantly expand the work of the Sustainable Energy Action Committee (SEAC), an organization founded in California in 2015 as a forum to collaborate on guidelines for implementation of codes and standards for permitting and inspection practices of renewable energy systems. SEAC brings together authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs)—such as local building and fire departments, contractors, manufacturers, suppliers, utilities, testing labs and other clean energy stakeholders for collaboration and problem solving related to solar PV installation and energy storage projects.

“This project will help address a critical need for State Fire Marshals, AHJs, fire and emergency services, industry and many others in this rapidly growing field,” said Philip Oakes, NASFM National Program Director.

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Under the recent U.S. Energy Department award, the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) will lead the administration of SEAC and facilitate its expansion into a national forum. Other key partners in the project include the International Association of Electrical Inspectors (IAEI), International Code Council (ICC), UL LLC, International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), National Association of State Fire Marshals (NASFM), Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), U.S. Energy Storage Association (ESA) and California Solar & Storage Association (CALSSA).

“With over 20,000 local jurisdictions in the U.S. that issue permits and inspect PV systems, a consensus-based process to enhance related codes and standards is a powerful opportunity to facilitate greater deployment of solar and energy storage,” said IREC President and CEO, Larry Sherwood. “This initiative is unique in providing an open forum for all stakeholders to collaborate on these issues and IREC is honored to act as the program administrator.”

Objectives

The project will facilitate improvements in the permitting and inspection of solar and solar-plus-storage projects by developing consensus-based solutions to high-priority codes and standards needs. An analysis will be conducted to determine the gaps in understanding and implementation that complicate code enforcement and can deter clean energy deployment. A consensus process will then be used to develop solutions. The project will also develop a website hosting information on clean energy code and permitting best practices and include extensive outreach to facilitate uptake of these practices.

“The adoption and implementation of building codes and standards plays a major role in supporting community resilience,” said Code Council Chief Executive Officer Dominic Sims. “The International Code Council is proud to collaborate on this important project that reinforces critical code compliance efforts across the U.S.”

And of course, by facilitating awareness and adoption of codes and standards best practices, the project will help reduce the non-hardware soft costs of solar and energy storage, thus supporting greater adoption.

“In order for solar to supply 20% of U.S. electricity generation by 2030, we’re going to need to work through longstanding code and enforcement challenges,” said Evelyn Butler, Senior Director of Codes and Standards at the Solar Energy Industries Association. “This network will provide a space for the solar industry to proactively work together, resulting in market-friendly and efficient standards for the companies that will ultimately follow this guidance. We’re excited to see the SEAC project expand and look forward to working with our members to participate in this important forum.”

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