Streamline Solar Policies & Practices with NC Clean Tech Center Sustainability Services to become SolSmart Designated

The North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center (NCCETC) is excited to be a part of the Department of Energy’s latest challenge to get 60 more communities to improve their solar practices and get recognized through the SolSmart program by March 2022. Applicant communities can receive a national designation of Gold, Silver or Bronze based on actions across permitting ad inspection, planning and zoning, government operations, community engagement, and market development.

The NCCETC is still searching for more local governments to participate in this round to receive free technical assistance to help them streamline going solar— including processes like planning, zoning, inspection and training. Communities can benefit from guidance for local solar ordinances and assistance from experts who coordinate with local governments to evaluate programs and practices that impact solar markets and suggest improvements to achieve designation. 

SolSmart is a national designation and technical assistance program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and run by The Solar Foundation and the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC), that aims to help local governments make it faster, easier and more affordable to go solar. The designation recognizes communities that have met goals designed to enhance and streamline solar energy development by removing local barriers.

In 2017, NCCETC helped 3 North Carolina communities – Orange County, Town of Chapel Hill and Carrboro – become designated as SolSmart Gold and Silver communities.
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As SolSmart advisors, the NCCETC has been working with communities in both North Carolina and Virginia to help them receive designation and bring down the “soft costs” of solar photovoltaic (PV) systems since 2017. These solar energy soft costs include permitting, financing and installation, which are tacked on to the overall price a customer pays for a solar energy system. Now the NCCETC is looking to serve communities across the Southeast in reducing the soft costs of solar for their residents and businesses.

Senior Project Manager at NCCETC, Liz Bowen, is looking forward to assisting communities and governments address solar soft cost barriers to encourage more equitable solar deployment and lower energy costs for families and businesses. “On average, communities that achieve SolSmart designation see an increase in local knowledge of solar energy and an increase of 62 percent in solar installations- that’s 3 systems a month,” said Bowen.

Previously, the NCCETC helped the Town of Apex receive Gold designation from SolSmart in 2019, making it easier, faster and more affordable for Apex homes and businesses to install solar. The partnership consisted of support from several of NCCETC’s program areas over several years to guide the Town of Apex to meet SolSmart’s goals designed to enhance and streamline solar energy development.

The Town of Apex first began making changes to its solar policies in 2018 to remove obstacles and provide encouragement for solar systems to be installed throughout the community. NCCETC’s Senior Policy Project Manager David Sarkisian and Senior Project Manager of DSIRE Brian Lips discussed the project after they conducted a thorough review of the town’s solar policies, of which the town adopted a large portion. 

“We reviewed the town’s rates, processes and permitting to find opportunities for improvement and help eliminate barriers to solar PV installations,” Sarkisian said. “The Town of Apex Mayor and Town Council implemented more solar-friendly policies to make solar more inexpensive, user-friendly and more feasible for residents.”

First responders also had the opportunity to attend a Solar PV Fire Safety training in June 2019 facilitated by the NCCETC. Later that month, the NCCETC organized a Permitting & Inspections Workshop for Town of Apex staff.

The NCCETC hopes to help local governments create a clear path to permitting solar installations for residents and businesses, while also expanding access for historically underserved communities. In May 2021, the DOE announced $10 million in funding for a SolSmart administrator for the next five years to update and manage the program to foster a more equitable solar deployment and the adoption of emerging technologies. 

Communities and local governments interested in learning more about technical assistance and services provided by the NCCETC can contact Liz Bowen at for more information and opportunities.