San Diego Business Journal

Energy Center Gets $700,000 to Standardize Rooftop Solar

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The U.S. Department of Energy awarded the San Diego-based California Center for Sustainable Energy $700,000 to lead a team of public and private groups that will seek to standardize rooftop solar installations in Southern California.

The funding is part of the Department of Energy’s $12 million Rooftop Solar Challenge, a national program to speed solar energy adoption by reducing common barriers that prevent households and business owners from installing solar panels.

“While the Southern California rooftop solar market is robust and growing, there remain considerable ongoing barriers to scaling up solar even more aggressively,” said Andrew McAllister, director of planning and strategy for the nonprofit California Center for Sustainable Energy.

Cost is a barrier, but not the only one. McAllister said local governments are inconsistent about project planning, permitting and utility interconnection. They “have high goals for reductions in carbon emissions, but few dedicated resources,” he said.

The California Center for Sustainable Energy, located in Kearny Mesa, said it will lead a team of 11 jurisdictions — including the cities of San Diego, Chula Vista, Los Angeles, Pasadena and Palm Desert — to explore the non-hardware or “soft” costs of photovoltaic systems, such as permitting, installation, design and maintenance, which account for up to 40 percent of the total cost, according to the Department of Energy.

The team, which also includes representatives from San Diego Gas & Electric and policy experts from the University of San Diego, will develop guidelines for a faster and more streamlined process. That likely will include updating planning and zoning codes, standardizing the permitting process, and improving the standards for connecting solar power to the electric grid.

Through the Rooftop Solar Challenge and other efforts, the Department of Energy wants to lower the installed cost of solar photovoltaic systems by about 75 percent before 2020.

— Kelly Quigley