US energy department hopes instant permits will boost rooftop solar installations

The process will make it "faster, easier and cheaper" for homeowners to go solar.

Lucy Nicholson / reuters

With the US back in the Paris climate accord, President Joe Biden has the lofty goal of decarbonizing the US power grid by 2035. As part of that plan, the Department of Energy (DoE) has announced that it's rolling out a new tool that will make it much easier and faster to get a permit for a rooftop solar installation.

The cost of solar has plunged 90 percent over past decade, but permit-related costs can take up to a third of the price of a rooftop installation. On top of that, with solar permitting varying widely around the US, some customers must wait months to get approval, the DoE wrote.

The Solar Automated Permit Processing (SolarAPP+) platform will supposedly solve those issues, becoming the standard portal for local governments to process permit applications. It automatically checks codes to ensure safety while generating a standardized inspection checklist that installers and inspectors can use to verify compliance in the field.

We have 3 million households today that have solar on their roofs, but the potential is so much greater.

The government piloted the SolarAPP+ program in four communities around Arizona and California: Tucson and Pima County in Arizona, and Menifee and Pleasant Valley in the California. "In Tucson, for example, SolarAPP+ reduced permitting reviews from approximately 20 business days to zero," according to the DoE.

"We have 3 million households today that have solar on their roofs, but the potential is so much greater," DoE's solar energy director told Reuters. "Having streamlined processes and an automated permitting platform that can make it faster, easier and cheaper for homeowners to go solar promises to really help expand the residential solar sector."

Local governments and installers can now sign up to get started with the app, or attend webinars listed on the DoE's blog. All of that is part of the DoE's Summer of Solar campaign which includes research by the agency aimed at lowering soft costs (design, siting, permitting, installation, etc.) associated with rooftop solar power.