Distributed solar photovoltaic prices have been falling over the past decade, but the “soft costs” for non-devices such as approval, inspection, and interconnection (PII) remain high.
PII review and approval processes associated with the 20,000 different jurisdictions and 3,000 utilities can sometimes add weeks or months to the installation process, along with higher installation costs that are passed on to homeowners. These longer waiting times can also increase the risk of cancellations and thus cause even higher costs for a successful sale.
In cooperation with the solar industry, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has developed the Solar Time-based Residential Analytics and Cycle Time Estimator (Solar TRACE), an online tool to increase the transparency of PII processes, requirements and general acceptance cycle times as a whole Country. Users can compare PII schedules and requirements for each jurisdiction in the U.S. so contractors, homeowners, and other interested stakeholders can estimate how long various PII processes in a jurisdiction or utility company can take compared to their competitors. Additionally, it can help identify PII-related improvements that can potentially streamline cycle times and potentially reduce PII-related costs and delays associated with different approval requirements.
While the cities of Los Angeles and San Diego have implemented online approval systems, approval in San Diego takes up to two weeks compared to instant same-day approvals in Los Angeles. On the interconnection side, San Diego Gas and Electric doesn't need a pre-installation permit for construction, while the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power takes about two weeks for the permit. These tradeoffs between permit and connection permit times can be understood with Solar TRACE.
NREL developed Solar TRACE using industry data from over 220,000 installations between 2017 and 2019 (approximately 25% of all US installations per year). Solar TRACE displays mean cycle times for over 700 jurisdictions with at least 10 installations in the dataset, spanning 140 utilities and 28 states.
Solar TRACE is published in conjunction with SolarAPP – the Solar Automated Permit Processing Platform. SolarAPP is a similar collaboration to develop an instant online approval platform that any US government agency can use to improve approval efficiency and reduce labor costs.