The Permit Reich

A German family gets solar panels installed, hooked up and registered in 8 days.

It’s a well-known fact that European economies sag under the burden of armies of indolent paper-pushing bureaucrats, enforcing kafkaesque regulations when they are not taking bribes to ignore them. (Not too far off the mark for Spain, Italy, and Greece.)

So, following the lamentable tale to which I drew your attention ten days ago illustrating the low German productivity that inevitably flows from short working hours and comprehensive social insurance, I feel obliged to bring up another tragic case:

There’s an article in the most recent issue of PHOTON describing a German family that got a 4.6 kW PV array installed and interconnected to their roof 8 days after calling a solar installer for the first time. The homeowner had a proposal from the installer within 8 hours. The installer called the utility the morning of the installation to request an interconnect that afternoon. The installer called at 10 am, the utility came and installed 2 new meters and approved the interconnect at 2:37 pm – the same day. The online registration of the PV system with Federal Grid agency and approval of the feed-in tariff took 5 minutes.

(I failed to locate the article in the Photon International website, which only lists contents for the current issue of the print magazine; I suppose it’s in the May or June one.)

Economies of scale, skilled labour, good IT systems, sure. But also this:

Germany does not have permitting for installing solar panels on residential rooftops.

Ah, but you can’t have delinquents signalling to alien spaceships with weird black antennae, or alarming the Stepford citizenry with kn*ck*rs hung out to dry in gardens and shockingly visible from the public highway, can you?

PS: the BSW German index for the average total cost per watt of installed rooftop solar PV systems up to 100kw now stands at €1.776, or $2.18. Typical US prices are double.

Author: James Wimberley

James Wimberley (b. 1946, an Englishman raised in the Channel Islands. three adult children) is a former career international bureaucrat with the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. His main achievements there were the Lisbon Convention on recognition of qualifications and the Kosovo law on school education. He retired in 2006 to a little white house in Andalucia, His first wife Patricia Morris died in 2009 after a long illness. He remarried in 2011. to the former Brazilian TV actress Lu Mendonça. The cat overlords are now three. I suppose I've been invited to join real scholars on the list because my skills, acquired in a decade of technical assistance work in eastern Europe, include being able to ask faux-naïf questions like the exotic Persians and Chinese of eighteenth-century philosophical fiction. So I'm quite comfortable in the role of country-cousin blogger with a European perspective. The other specialised skill I learnt was making toasts with a moral in the course of drunken Caucasian banquets. I'm open to expenses-paid offers to retell Noah the great Armenian and Columbus, the orange, and university reform in Georgia. James Wimberley's occasional publications on the web

12 thoughts on “The Permit Reich”

  1. I think this goes without saying but if you aren’t “normal” in the United States, what you do in your home is everyone else’s business.

  2. It’s a well-known fact that European economies sag under the burden of armies of indolent paper-pushing bureaucrats, enforcing kafkaesque regulations when they are not taking bribes to ignore them. So, following the lamentable tale to which I drew your attention ten days ago illustrating the low German productivity that inevitably flows from short working hours and comprehensive social insurance, I feel obliged to bring up another tragic case…

    Professor Wimberly, it would have been nice if you mentioned how much the German health care systems fails in direct comparison to ours as well. The phrase “social insurance” does not quite make that as clear as it ought to be.

      1. with sarcasm, snark, and irony.
        And a push up bra. Those are good for support I hear.

    1. For the record, I am not and have never been a professor. I don’t even have a Ph.D; why they let me in here I don’t know.
      I doubt if I’m in substantive disagreement with any of you over the German health care system about which I blogged myself in the day, to no effect. It is a social insurance scheme, unlike the NHS.

  3. My sister & family live in a scenic area of the West of Ireland. They live in a nice restored cottage, and got their solar panels installed last year. Though in a pretty overcast area (a lot of the time!), they are finding the benfits for water heating, though it will be some time before the system pays for itself.

    They certainly had no problem with a permit (or “planning permission”, as it is known here) – in fact there are small subsidies for domestic solar panels, part of a gesture to the unemployment situation.

    1. What, some time before the system pays for itself? At a time when bank deposits are paying 0-2% and serious-risk-of-default bonds are paying 7-10%, an environmentally sound investment might take 5-10 years to pay off? I’m shocked.

  4. Just as a point of comparison, we’ve just had a PV array put in. We’re now at the final stage: everything is in, we’re just waiting on the local utility (CL&P) to come and install the net meter.

    I have to say, both the state and local authorities turned around their paperwork quickly. Approval from the state took a few days and came in via email. Approval from the town (inspection, post-installation), took I think 2 days. It was quite bang-bang. Granted, 2 days here and 2 days there aren’t nothing, but the project hardly languished. The contractor (who has been pretty good) and CL&P have taken longer.

  5. I too think it is too easy to naysay permitting. Permits, like laws, are needed because left to themselves, people do stupid and bad things. Perhaps in Germany, there is a background of landuse and building regulations, or cultural mores, that have already foreclosed most possibilities of p*ssing off your neighbors with your dumba**ed solar array placement.

    Not the case here in the US, imho. We have rules because people do stupid things. Here, people put in solar arrays and then sue their neighbor to try to force them to cut their trees down. Or they build things that reflect in other people’s windows. We are just not culturally mature enough to go unregulated. Sorry but it’s true.

  6. It is a matter of little to no regulation, or just smarter regulation?

    Generally speaking, people tend to lump regulatory simplification/modification and deregulation in the same category, which seems like a mistake. There’s a huge difference between having little to no regulation and a regulatory regime, however dense, that is easy to navigate.

    From one of the link’s original references:

    “As a general principle [in Germany], a building permit is not required for façade or roof PV installations but ground mounted installations are subject to detailed planning regulations.”

    http://www.nortonrose.com/knowledge/publications/15987/regulatory-regimes-for-solar-power

    Again, smarter and simpler, or looser? Can it be both?

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