Solar Builder

SEP-OCT 2018

Solar Builder focuses on the installation/construction of solar PV systems. We cover the latest PV technology (modules, mounting, inverters, storage, BOS) and equip installers/contractors with tips and tools to make informed purchasing decisions.

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much more cost-effective could solar be in a jurisdiction that prioritized it as a crucial component of a modern, distribution grid — something as simple as solar-ready building requirements for new construction? This question has been top of mind for NREL's solar analysis team who recently published a roadmap for reducing residential PV costs by 2030. "There are considerable opportunities for cost reduction resulting from solar ready building codes or installing PV at the time of new construction," Ardani says. "With much less time dedicated to installing conduit and wir- ing, costs and time associated with installation can drop dramatically." But then, why stop there? We live in a brave new world where the fifth largest economy on the globe (California) is mandating all new residential construction come equipped with solar power. Ardani notes that "NREL's recent roadmap analysis f indings indi- cate that there are considerable opportunities to reduce solar soft costs but that innovation in both technology and regulatory practices will be required f irst." Opportunity lost All of the above could probably be summed by the meme of two Spidermans pointing at each other. "In general, there can be a chicken-and-egg problem with interconnec- tion and permitting," Barnes says. "If utilities or local jurisdictions don't have much solar, they don't have a need to develop a better process (or, any processes) to deal with it. If there aren't transparent processes, it may deter installers from seeking customers in those areas. If the opportunity is great enough, there may be a developer who is willing to be the first mover and figure out the process. All this is to say, there are a lot of factors that a developer will weigh when considering entering a new market, but burden- some permitting and interconnection requirements have historically been significant barriers in many areas throughout the country." SolSmart cities and PG&E show that the chicken-egg conundrum is easily avoided by municipalities and utilities that actively do so by coordi- nating communication, revamping workflow and modernizing outdated assumptions. This secure footing then lets a true local solar market take shape. All of that isn't necessarily easy, but neither was developing low-cost renewable energy. Since the latter is here, the former has an obligation to catch up. Chris Crowell is the managing editor of Solar Builder. Right at the southern tip of Texas at the Mexican border is the city of Brownsville. The population is around 200,000 people in the low to moderate income bracket, emphasis on the low. The community was in such a dire spot and in need of a boost that fed- eral organizations from FEMA to the EPA to the DOE were brought in to help. "We looked holistically at what can we do to improve overall and become more resilient," said David Licon Jr., an engineer for the City of Brownsville. "Solar was always an idea here. We thought we could help [the low-income community] out if we could get the ball rolling, dispel the illusions around solar and maybe help some of our citizens struggling with that high energy bill each month — make things more sustain- able in the long haul." Brownsville could check no boxes on the early adopter SolSmart checklist — nothing in its zoning ordinance, and no real way to get through permitting — so they started with basics. The first step was getting on the same page with the three utility com- panies in town. "We were fortunate our utilities came to the table to talk about it. That's a must," Licon said. "We can only make suggestions, so that relationship paid divi- dends to get everyone on the same page." This led to the utilities all putting standardized appli- cations online while work- ing toward a three- to five- day turnaround. The city's zoning ordi- nances now allowing "by right accessory use," which limits the number of reviews from submission to installation. The city also created a permitting pro- cess for solar so that it goes through the appropri- ate reviews and isn't a slow case-by-case process avoids run-around between city and utility company. "The next thing as we progressed forward, is communication," Licon said. "Once we told the public what we wanted to do we have had nothing but support. Once we put a sticker on our website ask- ing if people wanted solar, we started getting calls the next day. We are pushing. We don't want to just facili- tate; we want our own skin in the game." In the past year, Brownsville has seen a 200 to 300 percent growth in solar installs compared to previous year. That's from a small number, but it's a start and it's a direct result from city initiatives. Licon says the next focus is vet- ting the solar companies coming into the area. "What guidelines do we need to protect homeown- ers from fly-by-night con- tractors? If we get momen- tum we don't want people coming in to scam." STARTING FROM SQUARE ONE

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