Permitting in the United States

Though the price of solar products is decreasing and solar adoption is steadily increasing in the United States, the costly, inefficient permitting processes are a burden to the buyer and impede progress of the solar industry at large.

Before installing a residential solar system, a permit must be obtained from the local Authority Having Jurisdiction, also known as an AHJ.  Typically, permit applications for standard residential solar installations must be submitted to the AHJ in person.  SunRun recommends a standard online application for solar permitting, which would drastically simplify the process.  It would be much more efficient if all AHJs utilized a standard web-based application to streamline this process.

The permitting process varies too much across geographical location.  This inconsistency between AHJs breeds a series of avoidable obstacles that are holding back solar adoption in the United States.

With so many permitting authorities sprinkled across the country, the discrepancy between standards produces hoops to jump through.  It seems that every city or Authority Having Jurisdiction has a different interpretation of codes and standards.  Some even craft their own legislation.

Applications often undergo a succession of reviews by multiple departments, which commonly conduct their own inspections.  Permit applications are then subjected to various municipal inspections that are neither necessary nor efficient.  In an admirable attempt to guarantee safety, local municipalities frequently include extensive fire inspections and components to the system that are not needed, further complicating the process.

Additionally, an AHJ will sometimes require further inspections of products that are already Underwriters Laboratory listed.  UL does their own quality inspections and functions like an insurance company.  UL assumes legal responsibility for damages incurred by UL listed products.  These additional inspections on UL listed products are a waste of time.

Unnecessary inspections in conjunction with other soft costs associated with residential solar create a barrier to adoption for potential customers.  Some municipalities are able to process a permit for less than $300, while others call for thousands.   Part of the problem is that all these AHJs have different fees that are often based on their own set of criteria, including those unnecessary inspections.

More often than not, the sum of these fees is too high because they are not in line with the actual processing cost to the Authority Having Jurisdiction.  SunRun reports that customers incur an average cost of $2,516 for permitting and inspection of a residential solar system. Most of these soft costs are not necessary for standard residential solar systems.

While an applicant for a residential system in Germany may only wait four days to have a system installed, this process takes weeks in the United States.  Sometimes months.

This inconsistency between jurisdictions creates difficulties for buyers, installers, and AHJs.

Installers have more important things to do than deal with municipalities that aren’t knowledgeable about photovoltaic installations.  Cities have enough on their plates to try to come up with their own filing systems, codes, and protocol. Customers need a convenient, cost-effective system of permitting that will get the solar system on their roof as soon as possible.

The entire solar industry suffers due to the lack of structural coherence in the permitting processes in the United States.  With a standardized system in the United States, AHJs will operate more efficiently, saving everyone valuable time and resources.

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