A solar installer in one Southern California city can take a set of plans to the proper authority and get a permit to build within 48 hours, a twelve-year solar industry veteran recently said. But in a virtually indistinguishable city of the same size that is immediately adjacent, Paramount Solar VP Todd Lindstrom said, “If I get it done in under three weeks, it’s a miracle.”
And, Lindstrom added, “I will be subjected to anything from silliness to lack of comprehension. That costs lots of money, to the point where you seriously consider charging extra.”
“Getting a permit is the choke-point in the process,” Clean Power Finance (CPF) CEO Nat Kreamer said, “[and it is] driving solar companies crazy today. It’s time-consuming, it’s costly and it makes for a bad end-consumer experience.”
Consumers want solar to be easy and quick, Kreamer explained. To do that, “we’re going to have to get the permitting barrier broken down. But we’re not going to get municipalities to change the rules. That’s where hope runs into reality.” The solution, he said, “is software.”
In its winning bid for a $3 million U.S. DOE grant to create an online database of local permitting standards, CPF estimated it could cut the balance-of-system (BOS) non-hardware (i.e., “soft”) costs of installing a five-kilowatt (DC) residential rooftop solar system by more than $0.22 per watt. And there would also be other, less quantifiable, impacts, Kreamer said.
The U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot program opened a new $10 million competition last month in search of “innovative, sustainable, and verifiable business practices that reduce these soft costs to $1 per watt.”
“We have to solve this problem,” said Solar Freedom Now (SFN) Co-Founder Barry Cinnamon, a 30-plus-year solar veteran who has done everything from rooftop installs to running Westinghouse Solar (PINK: WEST). “The way we are going to solve it is on the national level because 18,000 cities, 3,000 utilities, 50 states, you’re never going to fix it everywhere.”