UT ’s Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public is participating in the US Department of Energy’s Rooftop Solar Challenge, an effort to encourage wider use of solar energy by streamlining the permitting processes, cutting red tape, and lowering the costs for rooftop solar systems.
The Baker Center, along with other UT departments and the Tennessee Solar Institute, is administering a $700,000 DOE grant that the group will use to identify best practices in financing, permitting, and zoning. The goal is to encourage the adoption of an online system to allow residents of four jurisdictions—Knoxville, Franklin, Nashville, and Memphis/Shelby County—to get residential solar permits through an over-the-counter, same-day review process.
“This research is timely and fits nicely within the Baker Center’s focus on energy and environmental policy,” Baker Center Director Matt Murray said. “We are pleased to play a role in this important environmental initiative.”
UT is one of twenty-two teams nation-wide to receive Rooftop Solar Challenge funding. The teams bring together city, county, and state officials, regulatory entities, private industry, universities, local utilities, and other regional stakeholders to clear a path for rapid expansion of solar energy and serve as models for other communities across the country.
Like the UT team, each team is trying to increase access to financing, standardize permit processes, improve grid-connection standards, and update planning and zoning codes. Non-hardware costs such as permitting, installation, design, and maintenance currently account for up to 40 percent of the total cost of installed rooftop photovoltaic systems in the United States. Lowering these costs is an important part of growing the solar energy industry so that it can provide clean, renewable energy for American families and businesses, improve US energy security, and create new jobs for American workers.
The UT team will work with the four municipalities and their electrical distributors, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and other stakeholders. They will try to create uniform documents, develop a prototype mobile application for installers, and assist in the developing more standardized code. The team also will research best practices from around the country on third-party financing, community solar, zoning, subdivision ordinances, and historic preservation in regards to solar rooftop installations.
“The UT team understands the importance of reducing the administrative barriers that stand in the way of solar-energy adoption in Tennessee,” said project principal investigator Bruce Tonn, who is a professor in the Department of Political Science and a fellow of the Energy and Environment Program at the Baker Center. “Funding and innovation leadership through the Rooftop Solar Challenge will help our state transition to clean solar energy.”
The Rooftop Solar Challenge is part of the DOE SunShot Initiative, an effort to make solar cost-competitive with other energy forms by the end of the decade. Reducing the installed cost of solar energy systems by about 75 percent will help drive widespread and large-scale adoption of solar power.
“Through the Rooftop Solar Challenge, the energy department is helping to unleash America’s solar energy potential in Tennessee and communities across the country,” US Energy Secretary Steven Chu said. “These awards will reduce the costs homeowners and businesses pay to install solar energy systems, while at the same time saving time and money for local governments faced with tight budgets.”