Solar TRACE: A New Tool for Tracking Permit and Inspection Times

We’re excited to share a new online tool from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) known as Solar TRACE. With this easy-to-use, free resource, users can look up a municipality or county and view key metrics on permitting, inspection, and interconnection timelines (PII) for residential solar projects.

An important goal of the SolSmart program is to help communities reduce the amount of time required for the PII process at the local government level, which is key to ensuring that solar projects proceed efficiently and at low cost. Solar TRACE (short for Solar Time-based Residential Analytics and Cycle time Estimator) now offers accessible data on the average time it takes local governments to approve permit plans and inspect completed systems. This data can help communities benchmark their own performance and compare with other jurisdictions; and can be used by installation companies to identify jurisdictions that have more favorable timelines where they may want to focus their business efforts.

Solar TRACE includes data for any authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) with at least 10 permitted solar projects per year, as reported to NREL by a number of mid- and large-scale installers across the United States. For each community, the website lists the median number of days required for obtaining permits; for completing the inspection process post-installation; and for obtaining interconnection approval from the utility. Users can compare multiple communities with each other and against the statewide average, and they can toggle between statistics for 2019, 2018, and 2017 (with the intent to continue to update as additional data becomes available).

The tool also notes whether a community has achieved SolSmart designation, a signal that they have met national criteria for becoming “open for solar business.” The website also flags communities that have achieved a three-day turnaround time for solar permits — a requirement for SolSmart Gold designees. Furthermore, Solar TRACE indicates whether instant online permitting is available in the community.

Interested in learning more? The Solar Energy Industries Association will be holding two webinars in the coming weeks. The first, scheduled for Wednesday, March 31, at 1 p.m. ET, will focus on NREL’s analysis and findings on the PII process and nationwide trends. The second, on Wednesday, April 14, at 1 p.m. ET, will showcase Solar TRACE and include a roundtable discussion with local governments, utilities, and installers on pathways to improving PII processes.

Check out Solar Trace here.