SPI Report: National Permitting Database and Other News

Blogging from Solar Power International in Orlando:

Clean Power Finance Launches Database of Local Permitting Rules

Matt Ziskin, Renic Gunderson and James Tong of CPF demonstrate the online solar permitting database at SPI in Orlando. Photo: Seth Masia

As ASES launched its Solar Freedom Now campaign, CPF began demonstrating the prototype for a national database of local permitting rules and practices.

According to James Tong, senior director for program management, the National Solar Permitting Database (demo here) will be a wiki-style compilation of rules and procedures reported by installers across the country. The goal is to log an installer-perspective review of permitting in every jurisdiction in the nation, so that local solar businesses can plan projects efficiently, and even affect local rulemaking and inspection practices.

A CPF press release described the project this way:

The National Solar Permitting Database is designed to streamline complex and time-consuming solar permitting processes by aggregating permitting data and standards from Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJs) around the United States in a single online location. Installers and solar professionals will be able to search the database quickly for complete and accurate information on permitting requirements, saving themselves time and money and allowing them to focus on selling more solar. The database, supported by a $3MM grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative, will be available to the entire industry for free.

“Permitting is a widely recognized pain point in the solar sector, but we think this project can change that,” said James Tong, director of government programs management at Clean Power Finance. “Collecting permitting information in a database that is available to all solar integrators without charge will dramatically improve time and cost savings for both solar professionals and AHJs and help lower the overall installed cost of solar.”

The database relies on solar professionals and AHJs submitting permitting information for the areas in which they operate: the more participation, the more comprehensive and useful the database will be. A number of key industry players from a variety of solar industry sectors have already signed up to participate, including Paramount Solar, SunWize Technologies, Next Step Living, B.E. Solar, PvPermits and Real Goods Solar, Inc. (NASDAQ: RSOL). Real Goods contributed data covering 5,500 zip codes.

“We’re very happy to help Clean Power Finance with the National Solar Permitting Database,” commented John Schaeffer, founder and residential president at Real Goods Solar, Inc. “We believe this program will help significantly in sorting out the confusion from numerous jurisdictions around the country, thereby reducing cycle time, design and administration costs. Ultimately, we will be able to set better expectations with customers, which will foster profitable growth in new solar markets.”

A wide variety of AHJs and service providers have also committed to support development of the database. Burnham Energy, a national service provider for solar installers, and AHJs from states as disparate as Wisconsin and California recognize the potential time and financial benefits of the project and are happy to contribute data.

“The current, state of solar permitting represents a challenge for everyone involved in the process, including AHJs, installers and homeowners looking to go solar,” said Carla Din, director of the East Bay Green Corridor, a partnership that is working with nine cities totaling over 950,000 residents in the San Francisco East Bay to standardize permitting and inspection processes for rooftop distributed generation (DG) solar projects. “AHJs faced with limited budgets and time, reduced staff and increasing demand for DG solar will also benefit from a smoother, more informed permitting process. This is an excellent opportunity for AHJs and solar professionals to work together to make information-sharing easier.”


Panasonic Moves Smartly Into Building-Energy Markets

When Panasonic acquired Sanyo in 2010, it was part of a well-planned strategy to diversify away from the hyper-competitive, low-margin consumer electronics business, and into longer-margin business-to-business segments. Sanyo’s premium HIT bifacial PV product, in particular, looked like the smart way to enter the energy business.

Then came the Fukushima disaster, and Panasonic’s timing now looks prescient.  According to Jim Doyle, president of the company’s new EcoSolutions “domain” in the United States and Canada, Panasonic lobbied diligently for the new Japanese feed-in tariff (now valued at about 50 cents per kilowatt-hour). As the FIT launched this summer, Japanese domestic module sales spiked 72 percent for second quarter, over the same quarter in 2011. HIT module deliveries never flagged as Panasonic began consolidating production in three factories to improve efficiency – Oregon for ingots and wafers, Japan for conductor printing, and Mexico for module assembly.

Now the company has begun shipping improved three-tab, anti-reflective 235 and 240-watt modules carrying the Panasonic label, and a 19-percent module-efficiency rating.

The company’s goals are much broader than selling profitably in the module space. “We want to be a valuable partner for other large businesses involved in energy efficiency,” Doyle said. He listed a wide range of products now manufactured by EcoSolutions: LED lamps, light and HVAC controls, home-energy management products and systems, smart metering, insulation, efficient large and small appliances. The demonstration EcoHouse, he points out, is 80-percent Panasonic-made. And the company can finance energy projects using its own internal short-term resources, and subsequent “take-out” (medium- to long-term) financing from Japanese banks.

“We’ll pull all those products into theU.S.when the time is right for them,” Doyle said. Early target markets will be electrical contractors and commercial building construction.

3M Creates Anti-Dirt Coating for PV, CSP

3M has introduced a water-based coating for glass-fronted PV modules and glass concentrating mirrors, said to shed dust and dirt to improve annual power production about 5 percent.

According to lab manager Doug Huntley, the hydrophilic film is applied in the field using a roller (like a paint roller). After 30 seconds, it can be squeegeed. Material cost for a standard 2-square-meter PV module will be about $1.

A year of testing in theArizonadesert demonstrates the efficiency of the nano-coating on a utility-scale array angled for optimal insolation, where dust can fall off. “It’s less efficient on horizontal modules,” Huntley said.

The remaining question: Will it shed snow?  We’ll find out.

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