92% of voters want more solar, so let's make it easier to get
Americans like solar energy – a lot. A new poll shows 92 percent of voters believe it is important for the U.S. to develop and use more solar energy. And 78 percent of voters in the poll support government incentives to bolster solar growth.
While solar has the deepest support of any energy source in the new national Hart Research poll, a big traditional barrier has been its perceived cost. That’s why work underway in Colorado and across the nation to bring down costs is so important.
The costs of solar hardware such as panels have dropped dramatically – by about 75 percent in the past few years. Now if we can work to get the “soft’’ costs down more, going solar will be possible for more citizens who like the idea of energy independence and cutting pollution.
The “soft’’ costs of solar include permitting and inspection and other regulatory costs. Recent research by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory found that residential solar systems in the U.S. cost about $2 per watt more than they do in Germany, and Germany’s streamlined permitting is a significant reason for the cost difference.
The regulatory requirements vary dramatically across Colorado’s more than 200 cities and towns, its 64 counties and its 65 utilities. In some places, it takes 20 days to get a permit for a standard residential solar system while in others, it takes only a day.
The Solar Friendly Communities program aims to work with cities and counties in a collaborative effort to bring down costs by shaving off extra time and standardizing some requirements while respecting each community’s unique needs.
Working with officials from Denver, Fort Collins, Boulder County and Golden, the project spearheaded by the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association with Rocky Mountain Institute has spent months looking at how to improve things. I’ve been honored to serve as the program director of this effort.
We developed “12 Best Practices: A Roadmap to a Solar Friendly Community’’ as a menu of options the communities can choose to make it faster, easier and less expensive for residents to go solar.
For example, the recommendations start with simply posting all requirements in one online location. Solar installers tell us that if they just know upfront what a jurisdiction requires, they can save time- and thus money- as they work to provide all the information.
Other steps involve working to speed up the permitting and inspection processes as well as efforts communities can make to educate citizens about solar option.
We believe communities that strive to grow more solar friendly deserve recognition. That’s why we will honor them as Solar Friendly Communities once they achieve 700 of the possible 1600 points we have laid out in actions related to the Best Practices. We want cities and counties to gain some benefits through this recognition.
We introduced this program at three workshops in September and are pleased that many of the community leaders who attended are working in their city and county governments to achieve the recognition we wish to provide.
The program, part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot initiative to drive down solar costs, is clearly in line with the recent poll’s findings about the desires of American voters. The poll, sponsored by the Solar Energy Industries Association, found that 69 percent of all voters and 71 percet of swing voters say the government is not doing enough to promote solar power.
Promotion is good, but we also like the idea of cutting solar costs by working with local communities to make things easier for their hard-pressed staffs as we shave off unnecessary and time-consuming steps in the process.