U.S. Secretary of Energy urges mayors to adopt solar permitting tool to speed deployment


U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm wrote an open letter to all U.S. mayors asking them to adopt SolarAPP+, a transformative online solar permitting tool that helps to speed rooftop solar deployment. This effort comes as Secretary Granholm caps off the Summer of Solar, her push to educate Americans on the benefits of solar energy. Secretary Granholm set a goal to get 125 communities to sign up to learn more about SolarAPP+ by September 30.

“Until now, obtaining permits to install solar can take days, weeks, or even months in some parts of the country, and can be a complex and costly process,” Secretary Granholm wrote. “At a time when we are using technology to create life-saving vaccines, connect with colleagues and family virtually, and explore outer space, it seems implausible we are still shuffling paper to process applications for solar permits.”

The software platform, developed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and several leading solar companies and organizations, automates the solar permitting process for local building departments. SolarAPP+ instantly analyzes whether a residential solar system is safely installed and complies with local building codes, helping to dramatically reduce the time it takes to get solar projects online.

“SolarAPP+ can reduce the solar permitting process from 8 weeks to just a few hours, making it a gamechanger for large city governments and small towns alike,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). “This online, no-cost tool makes it much easier and simpler to approve residential solar projects, saving local governments time and money. We need to do all we can to quickly deploy solar and meet our climate goals, and a tool like SolarAPP+ can help jumpstart our clean energy transformation.”

There are more than 15,000 local jurisdictions that approve solar permits, and each one has its own approach or system for approving these projects. SolarAPP+ helps to standardize the process while ensuring safety and can be universally adopted by state and local governments of all sizes. Because it is an online tool, SolarAPP+ helps municipalities cut down on staff hours and the resources needed to manually process applications, all while improving accuracy and reducing clerical errors, so staff can focus on more complex projects.

“Simplifying, streamlining the solar permitting process is one of the few levers the city of Houston has to help reduce barriers to adoption,” said Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner. “Automating plan review, permit approval, and project tracking would also save time and money for installers and the city. This tool will facilitate delivery of projects that will bring transformational change to our communities and help cities achieve our climate action goals.”

“We were the first to adopt SolarAPP+, and the first to issue a permit using it,” said Pleasant Hill Mayor Sue Noack. “We’ve just issued our 30th permit through SolarAPP+ and with all the building we’ve done, there have been no issues at all.” 

Solar installers also stand to gain from the SolarAPP+ tool because it will lead to less wait time and a much smoother process for solar customers. A better customer experience helps to reduce cancellations and boost referrals, all of which can help to lower solar soft costs.

“With U.S. rooftop solar installations double the cost of those in many countries, speeding up the deployment of local solar and storage through better permitting with NREL’s SolarAPP+ online permitting platform is an idea whose time has come,” said Rob Sargent, campaign director for Local Solar for All. “Hats off to Secretary Granholm for urging mayors and local officials to rise to the challenge by taking advantage of this important tool.”

SolarAPP+ is free for state and local governments to use and leads to a faster and more reliable experience for solar customers, solar installers, and building professionals. SolarAPP+ is currently available for residential solar installations and later expansions of the program will include battery storage as well as solar and solar + storage for commercial buildings.

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