NREL Helps Streamline Solar Power Installations for Local Governments

In partnership with SolSmart, NREL expertise has helped more than 100 local governments streamline the process for homes and businesses to install solar power.

NREL analysts have helped SolSmart foster the growth of strong, local solar markets by reducing "soft costs"—those administrative costs that can make it more difficult for the installation of photovoltaics (PV). Local governments can reduce those costs by taking advantage of SolSmart's free technical assistance and changing policies, such as allowing online permitting.

Communities interested in being measured for solar friendliness are judged against established best practices derived from examples set by model cities, such as Austin and San Francisco. Certain prerequisites mandate that information about installing solar, like the necessary permits, be available online. NREL analysts, who primarily assist with SolSmart to the west of the Mississippi River, determine which designation fits and suggest changes if a community falls short in certain areas.

In addition, the NREL analysis serves to push communities forward that want a higher designation. One city interested in the addition of PV to its new convention center was told the idea wouldn't make economic sense because of already cheap electricity prices.

SolSmart is funded through the U.S. Department of Energy's SunShot Initiative and administered by the Solar Foundation.


A five-year effort intended to run through 2020, SolSmart identifies barriers that may exist in the adoption of solar power, such as permitting issues and zoning codes. The goal is to have 300 designations—either Bronze, Silver, or Gold—awarded by the end of the program.

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Jason Coughlin