Soft costs are the non-hardware costs associated with going solar. These costs include permitting, financing, and installing solar, as well as the expenses solar companies incur to acquire new customers, pay suppliers, and cover their bottom line. These "soft costs" are tacked-on to the overall price a customer pays for a solar energy system.
While solar prices have fallen dramatically in the US during last five years, most of those reductions have occurred in hardware costs. Because cities and counties have direct control or influence on permitting and zoning for solar and have the ability to actively engage community members to go solar - the SolSmart designation program was developed. The designation recognizes communities that haven taken actions to remove barriers to solar adoption by residents and businesses.
Measured, quantitative outcomes / project impact
ICLEI was chosen as a Technical Advisor in 2019 to support the communities’ efforts to achieve SolSmart designation with the aims of improving the business climate for solar energy and providing official recognition that a municipality is “open for solar business.” The process began in January 2019 with training on SolSmart requirements through a series of web group sessions and one-on-one technical calls. Most ICLEI-assisted SolSmart communities achieved the Bronze-level recognition by the end of November that year. The adjustments needed in documentation and business practices often required coordination between community departments (e.g., Sustainability Office, Planning, Zoning, Information Systems, Fire and Rescue, and Tax) which added some time burden but also built beneficial cohesion. Training was required for building departments, permitting staff and others. Approvals of the changes sometimes required formal action by the City Council, Zoning Board and Planning Board; and the approval protocol process added time.