Whenever the discussion of solar cost, the focus is usually on thecost of equipment, like solar panels and inverters. But, according to a recently released report from California solar installation company SunRun, there’s anotherfactor that’s adding up to 30 percent to the solar installation cost:permits. Solar installers across the country are becoming increasinglyfrustrated with different requirements, even between neighboringcounties. So what’s the deal with solar permitting?
In southern California alone, there are roughly 50 differentpermitting offices with different fees and documentation requirementsneeded from installers before they can install solar energy systems onhomes or businesses. In order to keep up with the complex system, solarinstallation companies are having to hire workers just to drive fromoffice to office to pay fees and turn in the correct paperwork. Forexample, Orange County, California installer Verengo Solar Plus has a15-person staff just to carry out these tedious tasks. That adds to thecompany’s overall expenses and, in the end, those expenses are passed on to the home and business owners in the installation price.
SunRun’s study suggests that, as the cost of panels and othermaterials decline, these permitting fees account for more and more ofthe solar installation cost. According to the report, the permittingprocess accounted for 13 percent of the installation price in 2007.Today, that figure has ballooned to 33 percent, and if the trendcontinues, it could account for half of the installation cost within afew years.
In order trim the cost, SunRun’s report offers the following solutions:
- Prize Program: SunRun is suggesting incentives forbuilding permit offices that standardize their process. Morespecifically, the incentives would reward counties that comply with the Solar American Board of Codes and Standards — a set of permitting standards adopted by the U.S. Energy Department in 2007 under the Solar Energy Technologies Program.
- Online Integration: The study also calls for a napplication that allows installers to process permit applications online rather than having to do so in person. This would save the companiesmoney on transportation and would likely enable them to trim down thenumber of employees needed to handle permits. In the end, this costreduction measure should be passed down to the home and business owners.
- Standard Pricing: Perhaps most importantly, SunRunwants a uniform pricing formula to calculate the the cost of a permit.As it currently stands, some counties don’t charge a dime for thepermits. Others use it as a money grab and charge as much as $2,000.
According to the New York Times, a more uniform process would add a $1 billion stimulus to the solarenergy market over the next five years. Coupled with the declining costof parts and labor, solar installations could soon be affordableeverywhere.