Cutting Red Tape to Make Solar Faster, Cheaper and Easier to Install

For the past few years, the costs of solar photovoltaic panels and hardware have seen significant declines, and that’s expected to continue. Great news for fans of solar!

Unfortunately, the remaining costs—those attributed to contracting, permitting, and installing a system—remain prohibitively high. Unless those costs fall, solar may struggle to reach mass adoption. Rocky Mountain Institute, Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association and other partners are working directly with leading communities in Colorado to tackle this challenge—making solar easier and less expensive for everyone to participate.

A key barrier to affordable solar power, administrative processes such as permitting and inspections can be unnecessarily costly and time consuming. In many parts of the country, these costs and all other combined “soft costs” of rooftop solar PV can account for over half the total installed costs.

In Germany, the cost of solar is much cheaper than in the United States. Subsidies have long been credited for these low costs, but a recent report by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory indicates that lower soft costs are not just a result of aggressive federal-level policy support. In reality, Germany’s low costs are the product of a mature market for solar and they point to a direction of where we need to go.

To add context, the German market has 301 MW of solar installed per million people, compared to 14 MW of installed solar per million people in the U.S. By streamlining processes that create bottlenecks in the solar installation process, communities in the U.S. can help reduce costs that are passed on to consumers, thereby making the technology cheaper and easier to install.

Making that happen will require community leaders to convene the right people around the same table, to explore opportunities to streamline the process while saving time and money. But each jurisdiction is different in some way. Building departments, which are typically responsible for approving solar permits, can have often unpredictable, unique requirements.

To help standardize these processes, RMI recently partnered with COSEIA to launch the Solar Friendly Communities program.

Last week—as part of Solar Friendly Communities— RMI and COSEIA hosted three workshops, in which we presented a new 12-step roadmap to streamline permitting and inspections, and reduce other costs associated with administrative processes. Each step is assigned a point value, so Colorado communities can determine their level of “friendliness” and measure their progress against other communities. By offering this clear template and instilling some healthy competition, we hope to encourage these communities create favorable environments for rooftop solar.

Going forward, RMI and COSEIA will work with stakeholders to establish “Solar Friendly Communities” throughout Colorado. In doing so, we aim to help Colorado become a leading market for solar and, over time, demonstrate a scalable model that other regions can adopt.

Highlighted Resources

Building Solar Friendly Communities in

American Idol Eat Your Heart Out: DOE Gets Wonky


Solar Market Transformation Program


Solar PV Balance of System