A University of Tennessee-led partnership that includes the City of Knoxville is one of 22 teams nationwide awarded Rooftop Solar Challenge Grants by the U.S. Department of Energy.

The DOE announced the winners of the competitive grants - designed to encourage the deployment of solar power by simplifying the zoning, permitting and other processes surrounding solar installations - on Thursday.

The UT group, which includes TVA and four cities and their associated electricity providers, received a $622,960 award. The group will use the money to work with local officials to streamline the permitting, planning, zoning and connection processes for solar installations in Tennessee.

The group also plans to develop a smartphone application that will simplify the application process for individuals and companies interested in installing solar technology.

In addition to the City of Knoxville and the Knoxville Utilities Board, the UT-led group includes Nashville, Franklin and Memphis as well as the Nashville Electric Service, Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Coop and Memphis Light, Gas and Water. The UT initiative is one of three organizations in the Southeastern United States to receive the awards.

"We're very pleased that DOE chose to fund our proposal and we look forward to working with our partners in this effort to reduce the barriers to developing solar energy in Knoxville and across the State of Tennessee," said Susanna Sutherland, the city's sustainability program manager.

Knoxville was previously selected as a DOE Solar America City and used those funds to develop significant growth in solar technology in the Knoxville-area from what had been a nearly non-existent base.

The Solar Challenge Grants are part of the DOE's SunShot Initiative, "a collaborative national effort to make solar cost-competitive with other forms of energy by the end of the decade," according to a DOE grant.

The DOE release announcing the awards states the regional teams will implement "step-by-step" actions to standardize permit processes, update planning and zoning codes, improving connection of solar power to the electric grid and increase access to financing.

More information about the DOE Rooftop Solar Challenge Projects, including a full list of award winners and their projects, is available at the DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, www.eere.energy.gov.