Permit Process in PV Installations

Don't look now - there's another reason not to stare directly into the sun. If you look closely, you can possibly see the invisible miles of red tape that all-too-often connect the solar system's largest star with the photovoltaic permitting process back here on planet Earth.

One might think it should be rather simple and quick; have the property surveyed and adhere to the standards of the Solar America Board for Codes and Standards. Sounds too simple to be true? You know it is.

In the U.S., the PV permitting process is overpriced and inefficient - a project-killing combination for most individuals and corporations considering installation and usage of solar panels.

According to a study done by San Francisco-based PV installer SunRun, the lack of a systematized permitting process in the United States is part of what makes the process so inefficient. PV installation permit requirements are dictated by each state and city. The SunRun report found that disparities in the permitting processes in certain jurisdictions on average add $0.50 per watt. That adds up to $2,516 for every five kW installation. In the next five years, it is estimated that over $1 billion dollars will be wasted on divergent PV installation permitting practices.

Another factor that wastes both time and resources is many jurisdictions' inexperience with the PV installation permitting process. Despite the fact that the industry has been around and talking about it for decades, clearly widespread adoption of solar panel installation is not yet upon us.

It's understandable that inexperience with how the PV installation process works might have a negative impact on the permitting process. However, the time has come to set standards so that applications can be streamlined and properly vetted.
As with any other process that requires regulatory guidelines and approvals, inefficiency has had a huge financial impact on widespread adoption of PV systems.

It almost goes without saying that people and companies are put off of the entire "going green" process if it becomes too arduous, costly and time consuming.

It may not be greener to just keep paying the utility companies, but it's certainly easier.

Going Forward

In most cases, as a commodity gets cheaper, more people considering buying. Unfortunately, that's not the case when it comes to installing PV systems. It's widely understood that while the cost of installing the systems is going down, so is interest - simply because the hassle of obtaining a permit put the project out of reach for most.

However, there are methods being devised that can help to streamline the PV installation permit process for small-scale systems (which have less than 15kW maximum power output). Since small systems have many similar characteristics, some U.S. cities are implementing streamlined permitting processes and more efficiently awarding permits. Portland, San Jose and Philadelphia have already enacted this streamlined permitting measure, with a high degree of success.

Perhaps it's time that the U.S. government get in the game.

Originally published in New Jersey & Company