Achieving SolSmart Designation

Sponsor: Nantucket Energy Office

From left to right: Alana Reid, Grace Phillips, Brendan Fainer, Daniel Brower

Sponsor Liaison: Lauren Sinatra
Student Team: Daniel Brower, Brendan Fainer, Grace Phillips, Alana Reid
Abstract: The goal of this project was to assist the Town of Nantucket in achieving the criteria and prerequisites necessary to earn SolSmart Silver status. The project was sponsored by the Town of Nantucket’s Energy Office to achieve national recognition for the island’s many past solar and energy achievements and grant the Nantucket community access to program benefits such as free technical assistance. To help the team further understand SolSmart, a variety of stakeholders were interviewed. To initiate the official SolSmart designation process, Nantucket produced a “Solar Statement” committing the town to specific actions to encourage local solar development. Working with a SolSmart-appointed technical assistant, an analysis of Nantucket’s public information and resources related to…
Link: Final Report
Final Presentation (.pptx)
Final Presentation (.pdf)
Zoning Review Presentation (.pptx)
Zoning Review Presentation (.pdf)
Solar Map Updater – User’s Manual

Executive Summary


Nantucket’s status as a National Historic Landmark District necessitates that solar photovoltaics (PV) adhere to specific visual guidelines (“National-Historic-Landmark-Registration-Report”; Way; Lang and Scout). These visual guidelines and the complex installation process have dissuaded people from starting the process of installing solar PV on Nantucket buildings (personal communications). As a result, the town of Nantucket continues to look for ways to both increase the installations of solar PV systems and further streamline the solar installation process.

In 2016, the U.S. Department of Energy established SolSmart, a national program that recognizes communities with an affordable and efficient path for consumers to install solar panels on their residential and commercial property (“SolSmart Funding Program”). When SolSmart designates a community, the community is awarded one of four tiers: Bronze, Silver, Gold, or Platinum (“Introducing SolSmart”).

To earn a SolSmart designation, a community must verify with SolSmart that they have completed a certain number of prerequisites as well as a selection of other discretionary criteria, which serve to improve the community’s solar policies and initiatives. Completing criteria requires a community to streamline their process for permitting solar PV, improve their public solar informational resources, or complete other solar-related projects (“Standard Pathway Program Guide”). In 2023, Nantucket sought to earn a SolSmart Silver designation in recognition of their efforts to improve the town’s solar installation process and promote the town’s position as a solar energy leader. The town was also motivated to pursue the designation to receive direct benefits from the free technical assistance offered by SolSmart. These benefits include receiving grant funding through the Inflation Reduction Act (Lauren Sinatra, personal communication; “Direct Pay Through the Inflation Reduction Act”).


The SolSmart Program

In 2016, after the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) granted funds to their Solar Energy Office’s “Solar Powering America by Recognizing Communities” (SPARC) program, the Solar Energy Office formed the SolSmart program (“SolSmart Funding Program”). The program’s objective is to “distinguish communities for being solar-friendly and consequently boost local solar markets while building consistency in solar practices nationwide” (ibid).

A SolSmart designation demonstrates that a community has clarified their solar zoning bylaws, simplified their solar permitting process, and communicated information about the solar PV installation process in ways that residents can understand (“Introducing SolSmart”).

Most benefits of a SolSmart designation are direct outcomes of any work the community does during the process. For example, a community that streamlines their solar permitting process may find that consumers are less hesitant to start the process than before (“Standard Program Guide”).

SolSmart Designation Tiers

SolSmart designations come in one of four tiers: Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum, with each tier being more difficult to achieve than the last (“Standard Program Guide”). As of 2023, no community had achieved Platinum tier and the over 500 designated communities have approximately an equal distribution between the other three tiers (“Our Communities”).

Criteria are specific tasks a community can complete to earn points (“Standard Program Guide”). Of all the criteria that earn points, some are prerequisites for certain tiers of designation, while the rest are discretionary criteria (ibid).

A community reaches a designation tier by earning a certain number of points and completing all the prerequisite criteria for that tier and every tier below it (“Standard Program Guide”). To obtain a Bronze designation, a community needs at least 60 points and must complete three prerequisite criteria (ibid). These three Bronze prerequisites and one of the Silver prerequisites are the only criteria that award 0 points (ibid). To obtain a Silver designation, not only must a community be eligible for Bronze status, but also it must have at least 100 points and must complete four Silver prerequisites (ibid).

SolSmart Designation Process

A community begins the SolSmart designation process by visiting the SolSmart website to learn about the program. Communities can bring any questions before a SolSmart technical assistant for consultation before committing. The next step a community must take for SolSmart designation is to submit a Solar Statement in compliance with Bronze prerequisite PR-1, where PR is the abbreviation for a prerequisite that does not fit into any of the six categories (Aves). Once the Solar Statement is submitted, SolSmart offers free technical assistance to the community to help them reach their target tier (ibid).

Figure ES-1 – A flowchart detailing the SolSmart designation process. Diagram adapted from PowerPoint provided by SolSmart representative Kelly Aves.

The technical assistance begins with the Zoning Review: a technical assistant from SolSmart examines all public-facing documents and bylaws from the community and reports back to the community documenting which prerequisites they have achieved, how many points they have accumulated, and how many points they have the potential to accumulate (Aves). Following this, the technical assistant suggests steps the community could take to complete the remaining prerequisites and earn the points required for their desired tier based on national best practices for solar (“Introducing SolSmart”).

Once SolSmart verifies that the community has completed all prerequisites and earned enough points for their desired tier, SolSmart will award them a designation.

Goal and Objectives

The goal of this project was to assist the Town of Nantucket Energy Office in achieving the criteria and prerequisites necessary to earn a SolSmart Silver designation or higher. To achieve this goal, the following objectives were identified:

  1. Determine the requirements for SolSmart Silver status that the Town of Nantucket needs to complete.
  2. Develop and execute a plan to fulfill the requirements for Silver.
  3. Review and document the Town of Nantucket’s process for permitting solar installations and identify ways it can be streamlined.
  4. Update and enhance the Town of Nantucket’s publicly accessible information related to solar permitting by creating and revising online resources.
  5. Identify a path for Nantucket to achieve SolSmart Gold status in the future.


Nantucket’s Zoning Review

After drafting and submitting a Solar Statement signed by Nantucket’s town manager, we received a Zoning Review from SolSmart. We also created our own review by comparing. With these documents we created a combined Zoning Review spreadsheet that allowed us to track the completion status of each SolSmart prerequisite and criterion.

Execute a Plan to Fulfill Silver Requirements

Using the Zoning Review spreadsheet, we developed a list of all criteria that Nantucket would need to complete to achieve Silver. We worked toward completing and verifying these criteria for Nantucket with our sponsor.

Review Nantucket’s Permitting Process

We spoke with the staff at Nantucket’s Planning and Land Use (PLUS) Department. They walked us through their portion of the solar permitting process, which included the Certificate of Appropriateness (reviewed by the Historic District Commission (HDC)), the building permit, and the electrical permit. Through these discussions, we successfully familiarized ourselves with Nantucket’s solar permitting process and used this knowledge to recommend ways in which the process could be streamlined.

Update Online Solar Information

A proper Solar Landing Page — SolSmart’s term for a municipality-specific website of information about solar permitting and installation — is a prerequisite for Silver designation (“Standard Program Guide”). Nantucket’s current informational website is missing information concerning the solar PV installation process, and therefore does not meet the requirements of a Solar Landing Page (“(2023) CE-1 Solar Landing Page Template”; “Solar Map & Resources”). To address this issue, we updated the website to become a Solar Landing Page based on SolSmart’s requirements, our sponsor’s wishes, and an informal analysis of the Solar Landing Pages of other municipalities with SolSmart designations.

Solar Map

Our sponsor expressed the need for both an updated solar map and a streamlined system for automatic updates. In response, we developed software to fulfill these requirements. Our sponsor additionally indicated her interest in a bar graph displaying solar installations on Nantucket by year, which we created from the data in the solar map. We included both the map and the graph on the Solar Landing Page.

Identify a Path to SolSmart Gold

After submitting our work towards Silver status to Nantucket’s SolSmart representative for verification, we examined the SolSmart Program Guide to glean the prerequisites and points necessary for Gold status and compare them to Nantucket’s status at the end of 2023. We wrote recommendations for the Nantucket Energy Office to complete should they desire to pursue Gold in the future, including a list of all specific bylaws or codified regulations that would need to be restructured before pursuing higher SolSmart designations.


Initial Zoning Review Findings

The Zoning Review (PZ-1) is the second step of the SolSmart designation process after submitting a Solar Statement. The Zoning Review Baseline Assessment determined that the Town of Nantucket qualified for 85 points of the 100 required for the Silver tier. The SolSmart technical assistant clarified that Nantucket had not yet qualified for the 20 points in both Permitting & Inspection (PI) and Planning & Zoning (PZ) required for the Bronze tier. However, the technical assistant recommended completing certain criteria, then totaled the points of the recommended criteria in the Technical Assistance (TA) Plan column. Including those would bring Nantucket’s total to 115 points and ensure the town would have the required 20 points in PI for Bronze, though it would still be missing 15 points from the PZ category. At the time the Zoning Review was completed, every contributing criterion still needed to be officially submitted for verification by SolSmart’s technical assistants. This left zero points in the verified column.

Referencing these findings, we constructed our own spreadsheet to track Nantucket’s progress. Beginning with SolSmart’s assessment, we found many potentially completed criteria that SolSmart did not identify. Based on our analysis the town had 145 potentially completed points, 60 more than the Zoning Review found. The spreadsheet also identified 70 points that Nantucket planned to earn, 30 more than SolSmart’s plan. In total, Nantucket’s goal was to earn 215 points. Following these results, we worked to verify all potentially completed criteria with SolSmart.

Solar Landing Page

To improve the Solar Landing Page and satisfy the associated silver prerequisite CE-1, we created resources to include on the page based on the recommendations from the Zoning Review. The first resource was a permitting checklist, which can be seen in Appendix C. The Permitting Checklist outlines all permits necessary to install solar PV along with the required materials for the permit applications.

Additionally, the frequently asked questions (FAQ) page was updated to reduce the time Nantucket employees spend answering repetitive questions. The updated FAQ page was developed from previous FAQs, as well as questions from solar installers on the island and from town staff. The page now links to other resources and are categorized.

Finally, we produced a bar graph for the Solar Landing Page of residential solar installations by year. Due to many gaps in information among data sheets, multiple sources were used, and the data was aggregated with no more than one sheet contributing data for each year. These graphs show a general increase in residential installations on Nantucket, with the plurality occurring between 2020 and 2022. As of 2023, there are over 200 residential solar installations on Nantucket, with a collective capacity of over 2 megawatts.

Figure ES-2 – Graphs of residential solar installations. The graph on the left shows the total new installations by year. The graph on the right shows the cumulative increased residential solar power capacity since 2006. Orange bars indicate the 2017 start to the Solar Rebate Program.

Solar Map

To update Nantucket’s solar map and facilitate the process of future updates, we created a Java program which utilizes the Google Sheets API to automatically update a Google Sheet with information that can be fed into various mapping software.

When we completed the code, we delivered it as a Java application alongside relevant instructions to the Nantucket Energy Office. The resulting Google Sheet can be uploaded directly to Google My maps. Additionally, a downloaded .xlxs version of the Google Sheet can be sent to Nantucket’s GIS coordinator to create or update an internal GIS solar layer. With this up-to-date solar map, more people on Nantucket may feel incentivized to install solar PV on their property.

Recommendations and Conclusion

We created four recommendations to further develop the work of this project as well as conclusions reached based on the analysis of the data found in the results section.

  1. Achieve SolSmart Silver Designation
  2. Complete the Prerequisites for SolSmart Gold Designation
  3. Maintain the Solar Map and Solar Landing Page
  4. Continuously Identify Improvement to the Solar Permitting Process

Nantucket is constantly working on becoming a more solar-friendly community. Earning the Silver SolSmart designation is a way for Nantucket to promote and recognize the town’s work as a solar energy leader.


“(2023) CE-1 Solar Landing Page Template.” SolSmart, 22 Mar. 2023,

“Direct Pay Through the Inflation Reduction Act.” The White House, The United States Government, 5 July 2023,

“FAQs.” SolSmart, 8 Feb. 2023,

“Home.” SolSmart, 31 Oct. 2023,

“Local Solar Rebate Program.” Local SOLAR Rebate Program | Nantucket, MA – Official Website,

“Nantucket’s National Historic Landmark Update Gains Advisory Committee Approval.” Nantucket Preservation Trust, 29 Oct. 2020,

“Our Communities.” SolSmart, 31 Oct. 2023, Accessed 02 Nov. 2023.

“Regional Program Guide.” SolSmart, June 2023,

“Solar Map & Resources.” Solar Map & Resources | Nantucket, MA – Official Website, 14 Nov. 2017,

“Solar Powering America by Recognizing Communities (SPARC).” Federal Grants,

“SolSmart Funding Program.” Energy.Gov, Solar Energy Technologies Office, 15 May 2022, Accessed 02 Nov. 2023.

“SolSmart Technical Assistance.” SolSmart, 31 Oct. 2023,

“Standard Pathway: Community Engagement.” SolSmart, 11 July 2023,

“Standard Pathway: Planning and Zoning.” SolSmart, 17 Apr. 2023,

“Standard Pathway: Prerequisites.” SolSmart, 17 Apr. 2023,

“Standard Pathway Program Guide.” SolSmart, June 2023, Accessed 08 Nov. 2023