Getting a permit to install residential rooftop solar panels and solar-plus-storage systems used to be a logistical burden that could take weeks. Now permits can be approved instantly, thanks to the Solar Automated Permit Processing+ (SolarAPP+) software tool, which is free for cities, counties, and incorporated towns and villages to use.
SolarAPP+ benefits everyone: Without time-consuming, manual permit reviews, local governments save time, resources, and taxpayer dollars; contractors can install solar projects faster and more efficiently; consumers can start saving money on their energy bills sooner; and communities benefit from reduced fossil fuel emissions and greater economic development opportunities as more clean energy is deployed.
SolarAPP+ standardizes permitting across localities, solving the challenge of different permit processes and procedures that exist among the more than 18,000 incorporated cities, towns, villages, and counties in the United States—and associated costs—that can discourage solar deployment.
The Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) funded SolarAPP+’s initial development and commercialization in 2019 through an award to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). Due to its success, the project received follow-on funding for a total investment of more than $7 million. Today, 27 communities across the United States are using SolarAPP+ and more than 475 have expressed interest in doing so. Since it launched, SolarAPP+ has issued over 10,000 permits, approved more than 60 megawatts of clean power, and eliminated 40,000 days of delays. SolarAPP+ projects have shorter timelines, too, with permits, installations, and inspections occurring about 13 days sooner than traditional projects (32 days versus 45).
One of the first communities to use SolarAPP+ was Pima County, Arizona, home to just over a million people. The county piloted the software in late 2020, eager to accelerate the approval process for the nearly 3,600 solar permit requests received annually. Prior to SolarAPP+, each permit took about 45-90 minutes to review. Today, SolarAPP+ has eased the county’s administrative burden and the costs to the community by determining if a proposed solar energy system is code-compliant in about 15 minutes. If a proposed system is not compliant, SolarAPP+ immediately identifies the reason the application was declined so the contractor can revise it.
Carla Blackwell, Pima County’s development services director, says her staff had been “inundated” with residential solar permit applications. She says those applications “were sitting in front of a lot of much more complex building permits and commercial permits that we needed to get out the door.” With SolarAPP+, “we’re looking at a 90% reduction in the number of solar permits that we have to touch and process,” she says.
Other communities have also experienced benefits from adopting SolarAPP+. The town of Pleasant Hill, California had been using outdated, paper-based permitting processes for residential solar, which would take the permitting office days to review and process. Now, contractors no longer submit incomplete applications because they can see what they’re missing before they submit, which has greatly eased the burden for staff. In Menifee, California, the state’s third-fastest-growing jurisdiction, the permitting office receives approximately 50-75 permit applications per week. Adopting SolarAPP+ has helped them eliminate the backlog so residents don’t have to wait to go solar.
Learn more about SolarAPP+, sign your community up to use the platform, and view an up-to-the-minute list of all the jurisdictions in the United States using SolarAPP+.