5-12-2015 A Standardized Solar Permitting Process Can Help Cut Soft Costs
The hard costs of solar have dropped in recent years, but the soft costs of solar remain unchanged. One of the largest soft costs is the solar permitting process.
Most solar installers know that in order to increase profits, they need to cut soft costs. Some of the available avenues, like working with GreenLancer, are up to installers to take. Other options, like creating a streamlined solar permitting process, are in the hands of policy makers.
The Green Energy Institute at Lewis and Clark Law School wrote Shrinking Solar Soft Costs: Five Solutions to Make Solar Power Economically Competitive. The report lists five ways policy makers can help make solar energy competitive with other types of energy.
It also breaks soft costs into six categories:
- Customer acquisition
- Permitting, inspection, and interconnection
- Installation labor
- Affiliated, non-module hardware
Changing the Piecemeal Solar Permitting Process
Most solar contractors are aware of the headache that the solar permitting process can be. There are more than 18,000 AHJs in the United States, and most of them have their own permitting process.
This can create problems for installers who need to get permits from several different AHJs.They have to make sure they follow multiple different guidelines.
Sunrun, a San Francisco-based solar company, conducted a study that found that streamlining the solar permitting process would benefit solar installers and California’s economy.
The report found that a streamlined solar permitting process would reduce the cost of permitting from $2,500 per installation to $600 per installation. It would also grow the California economy by $5 billion by 2020.
Governments Should Help Standardize Solar Permits
Researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) agree that governments, preferably state governments, should step in and help streamline the solar permitting process. The LBNL suggests that states
- Create standard state or regional technical and procedural requirements
- Have clear guidelines and checklists for permit applications
- Use online completion and submission of permit applications
- Eliminate unnecessary or redundant reviews and inspections
- Reduce wait times
- Reduce permit fees
Another option for streamlining the solar permitting process is allowing installers who have a good track record expedited permitting. This would enable trusted contractors to quickly move through the permitting process, and it would encourage other installers to try to reach the expedited status.
Cutting Soft Costs Is Essential
While there are some steps that solar installers can take to cut soft costs, policy makers should step in and help the solar industry. A standardized solar permitting process makes fiscal and economic sense. Processing permits faster saves states, installers, and solar customers money. It also means that more solar systems can be installed, which helps reduce the negative impact of fossil fuels.