Rooftop, Solar

Listen Up: Paperwork Makes Solar Much More Expensive

Eight years ago I was puzzled as to why residential solar installations were $2.50/watt cheaper in Germany compared to the U.S. Perfect excuse for a road trip — so after meetings with installers and visiting job sites in Germany, I finally discovered the reason. It wasn’t the beer, but the paperwork and associated regulations. Unfortunately, the price gap is still about the same: a typical 4,000 watt residential system costs about $10,000 in Germany compared to $20,000 in the U.S.

Amazingly, it boils down to the difference between a one page incentive application in Germany for the installation of a standardized system that does not even require an inspection…compared to hundreds of pages of permits, applications and agreements coupled with multiple inspections and jurisdictional requirements that are required in the U.S. Although equipment costs are coming down slowly and installers are getting more efficient, there are still jurisdictions that are piling on requirements and paperwork instead of streamlining the process. 

These high costs are the result of poor policies, not technology or worker productivity. In the U.S. there are over 18,000 cities and 3,000 utilities that enforce their own requirements for rooftop solar. In German there is one consistent set of requirements (including financing). To reduce residential installation costs we need to simplify and standardize these local policies. And that takes political will to make solar more cost effective for homeowners.

There are glimmers of hope: in 2014 California passed a law to streamline solar permitting and inspections for standard rooftop systems. Along the same lines, the SunShot Program has focused on “soft cost” reductions to achieve their cost reduction goals. Please Listen Up to this week’s Energy Show on Renewable Energy World to find out what some cities and states are doing to reduce rooftop solar costs.

About The Energy Show

As energy costs consume more and more of our hard-earned dollars, we as consumers really start to pay attention. But we don’t have to resign ourselves to $5/gallon gas prices, $200/month electric bills and $500 heating bills. There are literally hundreds of products, tricks and techniques that we can use to dramatically reduce these costs — very affordably.

The Energy Show on Renewable Energy World is a weekly 20-minute podcast that provides tips and advice to reduce your home and business energy consumption. Every week we’ll cover topics that will help cut your energy bill, explain new products and technologies in plain English, and cut through the hype so that you can make smart and cost-effective energy choices. 

About Your Host

Barry Cinnamon is a long-time advocate of renewable energy and is a widely recognized solar power expert. In 2001 he founded Akeena Solar — which grew to become the largest national residential solar installer by the middle of the last decade with over 10,000 rooftop customers coast to coast. He partnered with Westinghouse to create Westinghouse Solar in 2010, and sold the company in 2012.

His pioneering work on reducing costs of rooftop solar power systems include Andalay, the first solar panel with integrated racking, grounding and wiring; the first UL listed AC solar panel; and the first fully “plug and play” AC solar panel. His current efforts are focused on reducing the soft costs for solar power systems, which cause system prices in the U.S. to be double those of Germany.

Although Barry may be known for his outspoken work in the solar industry, he has hands-on experience with a wide range of energy saving technologies.  He’s been doing residential energy audits since the punch card days, developed one of the first ground-source heat pumps in the early ‘80s, and always abides by the Laws of Thermodynamics.

Lead image: Green microphone via Shutterstock