Coloradoans often brag that the state receives an average of 300 days of sunshine each year. In addition to attracting outdoor enthusiasts year round, the sun also positions Colorado as an emerging hub in the booming U.S. solar market.
By Kelly Vaughn, Rocky Mountain Institute
In Colorado, installed solar photovoltaic capacity grew 165 percent from 2009-2010, and we’re seeing an increasing number of lease and power-purchase agreement providers as new business models converge on the state. Major cities throughout Colorado are setting ambitious renewable energy goals (in addition to the state renewable portfolio standard calling for 30 percent renewables by 2020) supported by utilities in an effort to create jobs, attract high-tech companies, and support community-level energy independence.
Rooftop solar is an important part of our future electricity system because of its ability to enhance energy security, protect against volatile fuel prices and retail electricity rate increases, and mitigate environmental issues. But, for rooftop solar to play its role—both on the national and local level—costs must come down.
While Colorado cities have little control over module costs, local governments, utilities, building departments and citizens do play a central role in tackling the “soft costs” of solar. Such non-hardware balance of system (BoS) costs can account for up to 40 percent of installed PV system costs.
Now, the cities of Fort Collins, Golden, and Denver, plus Boulder County, are tackling this challenge head-on with the help of RMI and the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association (COSEIA). Through Solar Friendly Communities, a project funded by the U.S. Department of Energy under the Rooftop Solar Challenge, these partners aim to lower costs by streamlining processes, improving procedural efficiency, and creating educational resources to drive down BoS costs and help drive rooftop solar adoption.
The four initial communities serve on a “steering committee” with RMI and COSEIA to meet the goals of the Solar Friendly Communities program. Among other efforts, they are working to develop a roadmap of best practices that may become the basis of a recognition program akin to the bicycle friendly communities designation system.
“With solar’s potential in Colorado, we hypothesize that local governments like our pilot cities will need processes in place to handle 10 to 100 times more installations per month than current rates,” said Jesse Morris, RMI analyst and member of the Solar Friendly Communities team. “Moreover, these processes must be efficient, safe, and dynamic.”
May 15-16 kicked off a series of workshops in Fort Collins and Golden where RMI and COSEIA laid the groundwork to analyze current operations that take solar installations from permit, to inspection, to completion. Discussion centered on how well the communities’ existing procedures and departments can scale up and down with changes in demand. These initial workshops revealed a number of common city-level challenges.
Read the rest of Kelly’s report HERE.