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What are interconnection rules for solar power?

#4 in our “Key Solar Concepts” series.

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The term “Interconnection” refers to the rules that govern how you can connect your solar panel system to the grid. Interconnection is an important factor in the decision to go solar, because the rules sometimes make it more difficult or more expensive to get your system up and running, thereby changing the financial picture a little bit.

While the federal government has set forth some interconnection guidelines through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), states have a great deal of say about how interconnection works, and the rules vary widely across the country. Thankfully, most states do a pretty good job of setting common-sense interconnection rules that make it easy for homeowners to set up their systems and start generating clean solar power.

The website “Freeing the Grid” is an essential resource for finding out how good your state’s interconnection rules are. The picture below shows Freeing the Grid’s state grades for Interconnection in the US, as of 2016:

What the rules cover

Interconnection rules are a little technical, but they basically allow you to “plug in” to the electric grid with solar panels on your roof. The rules generally cover a few main things:

  • The sizes of installations that can be interconnected with the grid
  • Whether systems must undergo outside certification or review
  • Whether smaller systems can be approved on a fast-track basis and skip some of the reviews meant for larger systems
  • Whether system owners are required to purchase additional insurance
  • Whether system owners are required to use certain technologies like external disconnect switches
  • How disputes between system owners and utility companies can be resolved

Given how broad those categories are, the rules can get complicated and ungainly pretty fast. In fact, delays caused by overly-complex interconnection rules cost Americans millions of dollars. We could all benefit from streamlined, common-sense interconnection rules proposed by groups like the Solar Energy Industries Association and the Interstate Renewable Energy Council.

Will bad interconnection rules put a stop to your solar dreams?

No. You shouldn’t worry at all unless you live in one of the “F” states in the map above—but even then, don’t worry. When you work with an experienced solar installer, you’ll benefit from their experience and expertise. Installers want to make sure your process as as simple as possible, so they’ll do the paperwork, schedule the inspections, and make sure you know everything you need to so your system gets up on the roof and cranking out the kilowatt-hours of clean green solar energy.

Last modified: January 17, 2019

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