Which permits do I require to install solar?
To evaluate this question, we need to look at who has any say on what you do with or on your house. We also need to look at the size and type of installation you’re considering. Type is crucial for us, here at CraftStrom, because of the types of technology we use. In essence, we call our system Permission-Free. With this we refer to the local government, utility and emergency services levels of this question, not to individual HOA or historic building restrictions. We’ll get to those later.
- Local Government: This can be on a municipal, state or national level. They want to ensure that what you put on your house cannot endanger anyone. Imagine solar panels flying around in heave winds, because someone only laid them loosely on their roof, or a house fire starting, because of shoddy electrical works. These requirements can vary greatly, even within neighbourhoods, so do inform yourself with your local government for your specific address. Local government will typically require 3 types of permits for traditional solar installations:
- Solar PV System Permit: This permit specifies the type of installation (roof, ground or building), the products involved, as well as their certifications (such as our UL1741), whether it’s for commercial or residential use, the size of the system, maybe even the environmental impact. In addition, you will need to submit construction drawings that show the exact installation method and the materials used – e.g. structural calculations for your roof, a framing plan, a roof-sealing plan, etc. Finally, the electrical plans on how everything is connected and can be easily disconnected.
- Electrical Permit: To ensure you connect to your home according to the National Electric Code (NEC). Only a registered and licenses electrician is typically able to purchase this permit.
- Structural/Building Permit: Traditional solar installations using glass and frame panels can be very heavy. One such panel can weigh between 40 and 50 pounds (18 – 23 kg) or even more, depending on manufacturer. Panels and mounting structure typically add 2-4 lbs/f2 (10-20 kg/m2). Not every roof can take that much weight, especially, since that increases in snowy regions and times. CraftStrom panels weigh less than half of traditional panels and can even be glued to surfaces.
For ground mounted systems, you might actually need special permits and even land-use evaluations.
- Utilities: Utilities, whether they are power companies or grid-owners, have the right to ensure that you are not endangering the efficiency of their services. Therefore, they will need to see a full list of all the components you want to install, as well as a wiring diagram. Secondly, you will need to apply for an Interconnection Agreement, which will allow you to back-feed into the grid (often called net-metering, when combined with electricity credits counted against your own electricity usage). To ensure the stability of the local grid, utilities do need to know how much power you will likely be feeding into the grid. They typically require the following information:
- The location of your planned PV array, the utility meter, the electrical panel, etc.
- The number of solar panels and inverters, including manufacturer and model being installed.
- The capacity rating for your planned power inverter and PV panels.
- Emergency Services: Firefighters need to be able to take full control of any distributed power system, to ensure their safety. Hence, they have a say in what you put in, on and around your house! They often require you keep a certain radius around your solar installation clear of any other types of installation and accessible, so that they can get close in an emergency. For traditional solar systems, they will require a lockable shut-down switch (a big, red, mean-looking sucker), to ensure no one but them can turn the system back on. CraftStrom products use specialised micro-inverters that plug into any outlet. So, instead of turning a switch, you unplug the entire system and can even take the cable with you. You could also lock the used power outlet, rendering it useless.
- HOA: Yes, well, unfortunately these can have quite a bit of influence over what you do with your house. In Texas and California, the HOA cannot legally stop you from installing solar panels on your home. This might be different in your region or state, so do check! Local laws might give you permission under two different types: Solar Access and Solar Easement laws. Check out this site for more detailed information in the USA: https://www.solarunitedneighbors.org/learn-the-issues/homeowners-associations-and-solar-access/
The also have a downloadable HOA Solar Action Guide.
- Historical Commissions: Depending on where you live (Europe especially), these might cause a headache. If you live in or near a protected building, such commissions often don’t look kindly on the typically unseemly traditional solar installations. But, talk to them, they might simply have a few extra criteria.
Once you’ve received all permissions and installed the system, using certified specialists, then the last step is to have the system inspected and received the sign-off, in the form of a Permission-To-Operate (PTO) document.
For plug&play systems in Europe: Please be aware that, while there isn’t a permitting process required, there is typically a 2 week waiting period that provides the utility and grid-owner with the time to ensure you are using only certified products.
That’s all for today, folks!