NREL Finds Interconnection Delays with Solar Installations

The Washington, D.C.-based Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory has gathered and analyzed data for more than 30,000 solar photovoltaic installations across the U.S. to better understand how interconnection regulations align with actual project completion timelines. The findings indicate that interconnection process delays are common, ranging from several days to months. Streamlining the application review and final authorization processes can ultimately benefit utilities and solar consumers by reducing the time and cost associated with going solar.

“We now have a clearer understanding of the different process elements associated with connecting a PV system to the grid, such as how long it takes to review and approve an application for interconnection, how long it takes to construct and inspect a system, and how long it takes to get final authorization from the utility,” says Kristen Ardani, an NREL solar technology markets and policy analyst and the report’s lead author. “This report represents the first data-driven evaluation of how PV deployment timeframes compare to state regulations in key solar markets.”

The authors of the report, “Understanding Processes and Timelines for Distributed Photovoltaic Interconnection in the United States”, examined PV project data across 87 utility territories and 16 states. They found that for the residential and small commercial (less than 50 kilowatts) systems sampled, it took an average of 63 total business days (median 53) from the date a PV installer submits an interconnection application to when the utility grants permission to operate. However, there is wide variation around these values, ranging from less than one week to more than six months. System construction represents the fastest part of the process, taking an average of four business days (median two). Interconnection application review and approval accounted for the most time of any single process examined in this analysis, requiring an average of 27 business days (median 18) to complete.

The report also provides state-level findings based on an analysis of five states with active solar markets—Arizona, California, Colorado, New Jersey and New York. The research suggests states with more stringent interconnection timeframe regulations might reduce overall project length. However, such regulations do not necessarily limit timeframes to the targets specified by interconnection standards.

The impetus and data for this project were identified through stakeholder discussions facilitated through the Distributed Generation Interconnection Collaborative (DGIC), a working-group consortium of more than 100 members. NREL facilitates DGIC with support from the Solar Electric Power Association, Washington; Electric Power Research Institute, Palo Alto, Calif.; and Western Area Power Administration, Lakewood, Colo., to foster knowledge sharing about distributed PV interconnection practices, research and innovation.

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