Every solar installation requires fire, building, and electrical permits. Unfortunately, procuring these permits is often a long, complicated, and expensive process.
Collecting and reporting permit-related project data contributes as much as 30% to overall solar project costs, not to mention the time solar installers must spend tracking down local jurisdictions and their contact information.
Sunspec Alliance’s Orange Button Project aims to lower these costs and simplify the permit process -- for free. In Sunspec’s recent webinar, “Standardized Solar Data at the Tipping Point,” both creators and users of Orange Button explained why the solar permit process is so challenging and how Orange Button helps to solve those challenges.
Why Getting Authority-Having-Jurisdiction (AHJ) Data is So Challenging
The Authority-Having-Jurisdiction (AHJ) is the civic authority for a town or county. To install solar on a given site, solar installers must receive permission from the location’s AHJ.
This permission depends on the installer’s adherence to the building, electric, and fire regulations mandated by the AHJ for that exact location. This means that the first challenge of solar permitting is verifying the AHJ of a specific location.
During the webinar, Aaron Casillas from Titan Solar Power explained how challenging this can be:
“Solar builders need to know the exact boundaries of county lines with such precision. Even just half a block down from a given address, you could be in a completely different jurisdiction with completely different permitting requirements.”
The lack of a national database for AHJ locations and requirements has made figuring out AHJ boundaries difficult. Aaron spoke for many solar installers when he noted:
“It’s tiresome to not have a single permit information database. We’d spend so much time pulling bits of information from all the county assessors, with no way to quickly tell what the AHJ and regulations were for a given project. And mistakes in the permitting process are costly: applying just one wrong fire code in a design can create a host of problems that result in delays, more paperwork, redesign, impatient customers, and even cancellation.”
In response to this industry-wide challenge, Sunspec created a database known as “Orange Button.”
What Orange Button Is & How It Helps
Orange Button is the first free, searchable, crowdsourced online database for the AHJ registry. Officially defined as an open data exchange standard for the distributed solar PV industry, it makes finding the AHJ and regulations for a site easier and faster. All an installer needs to do is type an address into the search bar and they’ll get the location’s:
- AHJ and its contact information
- Fire, building, and electric code regulations
- Latitude and longitude
When Aaron used the Orange Button tool at Titan Solar he said:
“Integrating our system with Orange Button’s AHJ registry has significantly reduced the time spent verifying our information. We’ve also been able to cut down on employee training time and costs, since our employees don’t have to search far and wide for permit information any more. They can just learn one system, then pull data from one source.”
Orange Button has an open API so that any company can build it into their website, product, and/or services.
How Orange Button’s Crowdsourced Database Stays Accurate
As Solar App and NREL move through their data processes, they will most likely remain the largest contributors of Orange Button’s ever-expanding database. But the database’s crowdsourced nature means that anyone can submit AHJ data for any U.S. location.
The Orange Button team always verifies this information by asking the location’s AHJ for confirmation of that data. Only upon receiving the AHJ’s confirmation do they add that information to the database.
The result of this verification process is Orange Button’s 98.5% accuracy -- far higher than similar human data entry efforts.
Orange Button: An Effective Tool to Decrease Permit-Related Costs
In the webinar, Jan Rippingale (CEO of Blu Banyan) and Aaron Casillas agreed that Orange Button has cut down permitting time, soft costs, and cancellations for their companies. This free and simple database has increased both project efficiency and customer satisfaction, and even includes permit submission support for installers who use it.
Andrew Spalding (Account Executive at AuroraSolar) concluded the webinar with Aurora’s support for Orange Button:
“Aurora’s core value is to empower our customers. We heard again and again our customers say, “The permit process is really challenging us.” So we are contributing vast amounts of our data to help expand Orange Button’s AHJ database.”
Aurora already simplifies installers’ permitting processes by allowing them to automatically create permit-ready designs with its fully NREL-certified software, so participating in the Orange Button project was a natural fit.
If you’d like to find out more about Orange Button and how it can help your business, you can listen to the full Orange Button webinar recording here.