Chicago Solar Express project simplifies rooftop PV for city residents and businesses

The city of Chicago, U.S., has launched a new project called Chicago Solar Express, designed to streamline the permitting, zoning and interconnection process of installing rooftop PV.

The project is available for residents and small businesses that wish to install their own rooftop array and begin feeding clean energy to the grid. Currently, such a procedure is mired in complications and delays, with the average array taking 30 days to install following permit approval. The Chicago Solar Express aims to cut that waiting time to just one day, while also making it easier for homeowners and commercial properties to gain permits and grid connection.

This radical overhaul of Chicago’s residential solar industry has been made possible thanks to a $750,000 grant issued by SunShot for the Department of Energy, who have launched a nationwide SunShot Rooftop Solar Challenge to encourage wider take-up of rooftop PV arrays.

The Office of the Mayor of Chicago issued a statement in which it reiterates the city’s desire to make Chicago the national leader in rooftop solar panels. Mayor Rahm Emanuel said: "The City of Chicago continues to take action and lead the way in solar innovation.

"The Chicago Solar Express will make it easier for residents and developers to make long-term investments that will improve the performance of their buildings while creating a more sustainable environment for the residents of Chicago. Driving solar development and creating green job opportunities will establish a bright future for Chicagoans."

The SunShot Rooftop Solar Challenge is intended to make installing rooftop PV more affordable for residents and small businesses, with an ultimate goal of grid parity by the end of the decade. For Chicago, the Chicago solar Express will support an expedited permitting process designed to achieve same-day permit approval in addition to reduced fees. The fee schedule has been reduced from $375 to $275, a reduction of 25%.

Additionally, Chicago’s Department of Buildings has published a set of new guidelines that outline the steps that general contractors are required to take when installing and designing small and medium-sized PV rooftop arrays in the city.

Streamlined grid connection

The simplification of the city’s zoning process is also intended to widen PV participation, making it easier for installers and homeowners to understand and interpret the policy guidelines, ultimately leading to swifter grid connection.

One exciting development in this area is called the Online Interconnection and Net Metering Enrollment tool, which will enable rooftop PV owners to submit, track and pay for applications through an online platform, receiving credit on their bills for the electricity their solar installation generates.

These latest measures are all part of the wider Sustainable Development Policy, a 2004 initiative that has been instrumental in making Chicago the leading northern American city for rooptop PV and renewable energy.