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Our frequently asked questions are intended to help address some of the common challenges communities face when applying for SolSmart designation. If you have a question that isn’t answered here, please contact us.

About Solsmart

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What is SolSmart?

SolSmart is a national designation program designed to recognize municipalities, counties, and regional organizations that have taken key steps to address barriers to solar energy and otherwise foster the growth of strong solar markets. It is led by the Interstate Renewable Energy Council, the International City/County Management Association, and a team of national solar experts from our partner organizations. SolSmart is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Solar Energy Technologies Office.

The SolSmart program first launched in 2016. In May 2022, the DOE announced a $10 million award to IREC and ICMA to expand the SolSmart program to help another 500 communities in the next five years, with a focus on underserved communities.

SolSmart designation provides high-profile, national recognition for communities that have made it faster, easier, and more affordable for home and business owners to invest in solar energy. Achieving designation sends a signal to solar companies that a community is “open for solar business.” Such efforts help attract new businesses to the community, providing jobs and spurring economic growth.

Communities committed to pursuing SolSmart designation will be eligible for no-cost technical assistance from a team of national solar and local government experts. This technical assistance is designed to help communities meet the criteria for designation. Communities that successfully meet this criteria are designated SolSmart Gold, Silver, or Bronze.

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Who is Eligible to Participate?

All municipalities, counties, and regional organizations in the United States are eligible to participate in SolSmart and achieve designation.

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How can my community become involved?

Communities that are interested in pursuing SolSmart designation should complete the online Consultation Request Form. We encourage all communities to begin the process by submitting an Consultation Request Form as soon as there is interest in pursuing SolSmart designation. This form will connect you with a technical assistance provider to provide a no-cost consultation and answer any questions you have about the program.

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What does it cost to participate?

SolSmart provides no-cost technical assistance to help municipalities, counties, and regional organizations achieve designation. There are currently no fees or other such costs associated with SolSmart. However, all communities will need to spend time completing the application and providing documentation that criteria have been met. Communities receiving technical assistance (TA) will need to dedicate additional time to working with our TA team and implementing its recommendations.

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How does SolSmart relate to previous U.S. Department of Energy-funded programs?

SolSmart is a standalone program that recognizes communities for solar leadership. While it seeks to build off of previous U.S. Department of Energy-funded programs, SolSmart focuses its efforts on helping communities meet designation criteria. SolSmart welcomes communities that both have and have not participated in previous programs.

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What are solar "soft costs" and how do they relate to SolSmart?

Solar soft costs are the non-hardware, balance of system costs associated with solar energy systems. They are also referred to as “non-hardware costs” and include costs associated with:

  • Planning and zoning
  • Permitting, interconnection, and inspection
  • Financing
  • Customer acquisition
  • Installation labor

Part of the aim of the SolSmart program is to reduce solar soft costs, which currently represent as much as 64% of the total installed residential system price. To learn more about the above categories and how they increase costs, please visit the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s website.

Solsmart Designation And Special Awards

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What is a SolSmart designation?

A SolSmart designation of Gold, Silver, or Bronze is a way to recognize U.S. communities that have taken steps to reduce barriers to solar development and encourage the growth of a more robust solar market. A designation is a signal to the solar market that the community is “open for solar business.” Achieving designation should decrease customer costs, provide jobs, and increase investment in solar development. The designation is a point of pride for recipient communities, their elected officials and staff, and their residents. Finally, the designation signifies that the community is committed to a cleaner environment and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

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What are the levels of SolSmart designation?

SolSmart is a tiered program consisting of three levels of designation: Gold, Silver, and Bronze. The levels of designation are determined based on objective criteria that correspond to the number and type of actions taken by a locality to reduce solar soft costs.

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What criteria must my community meet to receive SolSmart designation?

The SolSmart Designation Criteria is organized into five categories – two Foundation Categories and three Special Focus Categories. Below you will find a summary of the five categories and the number of credits and available points in each category.

Foundational Categories

  • Permitting and Inspection (PI)
  • Planning and Zoning (PZ)

Special Focus Categories

  • Government Operations (GO)
  • Community Engagement (CE)
  • Market Development (MD)

Visit our criteria page to learn more about the criteria and the requirements for designation.

To view the full list of criteria, please visit our program guide

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What is the timeline for achieving SolSmart designation?

There is no specific timeline for communities working toward achieving designation. It will depend on each community’s starting point, staff availability, and goals. SolSmart experts will design personalized action plans for communities that outline a path to designation and a rough timeline. SolSmart accepts applicants on a rolling-basis.

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What are special recognition awards?

Communities that complete 60% or more of the points in a particular Foundational or Special Focus category will be eligible for a special recognition award.

Solsmart Technical Assistance

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Does my community need solar technical assistance?

Your Consultation Request Form submittal will be reviewed against program criteria to see if your community meets the requirements for designation. The initial review will also determine at which level a community would qualify for designation. If, upon review, your community does not meet the requirements for SolSmart designation, your community will be eligible for technical assistance. The personalized technical assistance offered through the SolSmart program is designed to help all interested communities improve their solar markets and achieve SolSmart designation. A community may also receive technical assistance to achieve a higher level of designation.

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How can my community access technical assistance?

Communities can access technical assistance in two distinct ways. First, communities that apply to the program but that do not meet the requirements for designation upon initial review will be able to access technical assistance services to help them achieve SolSmart designation. Members of the Technical Assistance Provider team will work with communities to meet the program pre-requisites and address any additional actions necessary to achieve the points required to earn designation. Alternatively, communities that have already satisfied enough criteria to achieve the Bronze or Silver level of designation may indicate during the application process whether technical assistance in achieving a higher level of designation is desired. While communities seeking higher levels of designation are eligible for technical assistance, communities that have yet to achieve any level of SolSmart designation will be prioritized for service.

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What can my community expect to receive from SolSmart technical assistance?

Communities that commit to pursuing designation will be eligible for no-cost technical assistance from national solar experts. While the technical assistance is provided at no cost, communities must dedicate staff time to work with SolSmart experts to achieve program criteria to progress toward designation.

Communities can receive technical assistance on any of the following actions to help them achieve SolSmart designation:

  • Overall program prerequisite actions
  • SolSmart Bronze, Silver, & Gold prerequisite actions
  • Additional actions within any of the eight criteria categories
  • Approved innovation actions
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Does the SolSmart program provide direct funding to communities?

The SolSmart program does not have direct funds to provide to communities. Instead, SolSmart offers technical assistance at no charge to communities that commit to pursuing designation.

Solsmart Advisors Program

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What is the SolSmart Advisors program?

The SolSmart Advisors program sends experienced professionals to communities across the nation to assist local governments in addressing solar soft cost issues. Advisors evaluate existing local government programs and processes and their impact on the local solar market environment. Then, Advisors apply industry leading best practices to develop actionable plans that will move a community toward designation. SolSmart Advisors assist communities through engagements lasting up to six months.

Currently all advisors have been selected through October 2020.

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How does my community become the recipient of a SolSmart Advisor?

SolSmart Advisors has closed for the program and additional advisors will not be available through Oct. 2020.


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What is the timeline for the SolSmart Advisors program?

The three rounds of SolSmart Advisors have been selected. No additional advisors will be selected through Oct. 2020.  Information on previous SolSmart Advisors and their communities is here.

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How does one apply to become a SolSmart Advisor?

Currently no advisors are being accepted through Oct. 2020.

Communities chosen to host a SolSmart Advisor will be able to nominate a candidate to serve in the community. The SolSmart team will review these candidates and make an eligibility determination. Communities that do not wish to nominate an Advisor – or whose nominees are not ultimately selected – will be paired with an Advisor with the assistance of the SolSmart team. These Advisors will be selected through an open, competitive process.

To qualify as an Advisor, an individual will be required to have experience relevant to the SolSmart program objectives. However, Advisors will undergo an orientation and receive technical assistance training prior to deployment to a community.