SolPer: Code Examples for Photovoltaic Solar Panel Permitting


Welcome to SolPer, an information resource for software developers who want to develop tools for streamlined rooftop solar energy projects. 

How this got started

In June of 2011, SolarTech launched its Solar Permitting Challenge. Google offered to help by making free App Engine accounts available to participants in the challenge, and to provide code examples to software developers. The example code and documentation were developed during a Google 20% task force.
In support of this effort, Doug Payne, of SolarTech, drafted storyboards to describe the solar permitting workflow as it may occur in a future online permitting system. One of these sketches appears below.


An Open-Source Effort in Solar Permitting

Why software can make a difference in solar energy costs

The cost of manufacturing some solar panels is now under $1/W; but, the cost of completed installations are still many times that, and now more than ever, a disproportionate portion of the cost stems from complicated and inefficient workflow.

Why cloud computing is the best place to conduct permitting transactions

Many people share the vision that cloud computing is the appropriate venue for processing building permits, including rooftop solar systems. Processing permits in the cloud will enable applications and APIs with a host of benefits compared to the existing paper based process. These benefits include the elimination of redundant data entry, reliable version control, fast and effective coordination between applicants and approvers, automatic error checking, and the elimination of the need for installers and building departments to maintain their own server and data storage facilities.

The intended outcome

We are making these code examples available to foster the construction of online permitting tools. We hope that this will result in working code that eventually scales to serve the needs of thousands of municipalities using uniform standards and best practices.

How might online solar permitting work?

This website provides code examples of basic building blocks any online permitting system would need. We have tried to be somewhat agnostic about how the blocks are put together. By making it easy to develop and test code, we hope there will be some fruitful coding experimentation that helps answer the question. We hope the solar permitting challenge will lead to some such coding.  Much effort has gone into exploring how the workflow will unfold.

The Streamlined Solar Permitting interface might work like this:

  1. A solar panel customer or installer goes to the Streamlined Solar Permitting site and enters the zipcode of the structure to receive the panels.
  2. The site presents a list of jurisdictions containing that zipcode.
  3. The installer selects the correct jurisdiction with a click of its link.
  4. The site returns a profile page for the selected jurisdiction’s planning department containing:
    • An overview of the local solar permitting process
    • Contact information, including phone numbers and websites.
    • A link to forms for manual submissions.
    • A link to the planning department’s own web permit application, either an instance of the reference app, or one of the group’s own making.
  5. The installer confirms the jurisdiction and submits a solar permit application.
See the accompanying diagram for a depiction of this flow.

Upon submission, the relevant planning department is notified of the application and given the ability to approve it in the Streamlined Solar site.


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