Thought Leadership

Exploring Options for Solar PV Permitting and Interconnection

 
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Submitted by Marcus Gilmore on May 30 2019
Achieving soft cost reductions by streamlining processes

Solar energy is a key component of state and local government objectives to achieve climate action plans, but current permitting requirements for rooftop installations continue to create barriers to low-cost, rapid solar adoption. While nonutility solar supplied only 2.2% of the U.S. electricity demand in 2018 (Energy Information Administration), it supplied up to 15% of total annual electricity generation in some states, demonstrating that where circumstances are favorable, solar can flourish.  

Growth in solar energy in both the utility scale and behind-the-meter distributed energy markets has been driven in part by price declines, with costs declining 70% to 80% since 2010. Most of this cost reduction is attributable to declining solar module pricing and balance of system costs, such as the inverter, racking and miscellaneous hardware, resulting in soft costs becoming a larger share of total system installation costs. Soft costs encompass the nonhardware costs of installations, associated with system siting, permitting, service contracts, capital costs, installation labor and grid interconnection.

In support of growing the solar energy market, CSE has administered programs and research studies aimed at accelerating market transformation by reducing solar installation soft costs.


Marcus Gilmore and Rebecca Baptiste will share CSE’s research on solar permitting and interconnection at the Electric Utility Consultants, Inc. (EUCI) conference Optimizing the Interconnection Process for Renewables & Storage in Baltimore, MD, July 24-25. Use the code REINT19CSE for 10% off registration.


The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) launched the SunShot Initiative in 2011 to reduce the total cost of solar energy by 75%. CSE administered several SunShot programs aimed at reducing soft costs, including Rooftop Solar Challenge I and II. These programs tackled approaches to reducing permitting, financing and interconnection barriers and costs through training, technical assistance and resources, including implementation resources such as the California Solar Permitting Guidebook. While the programs contributed to regional successes, further work is critical in additional markets for reducing the soft costs of solar system installations nationwide.

Currently, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and CSE are cooperating on a Solar Energy Evolution Diffusion Studies II grant from the DOE to analyze preferences among jurisdictions, solar installers and utility interconnection staff nationwide regarding streamlining the permitting and interconnection process for small rooftop residential solar systems.

Previous efforts utilized a one-size-fits-all approach to streamlining permitting and interconnection processes, which has proven difficult to widely deploy and scale. This effort is unique from past projects in its attempt to identify nuanced preferences, based on utility and jurisdiction organizational characteristics, to help inform various approaches for streamlined permitting and interconnection processes. For example, utilities in unregulated markets with heavy solar market penetration may have distinct process preferences from small municipal utilities with burgeoning solar markets.

Using a more tailored and localized approach to permitting and interconnection will promote greater widescale solar deployment nationwide.

If you are a staff member of a utility, municipality or local government or a solar installer working on interconnection and would like to participate in this research study, please email Rebecca.Baptiste@energycenter.org

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About Marcus Gilmore
Senior Regional Manager, Northeast