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The Numbers Are In: Solar Leads In Job Growth

Solar jobs have tripled in seven years. Will growth continue?

“Renewable energy use translates to bottom-line benefits such as lower and more stable energy costs for GM in the long term. With more than 67 megawatts of solar housed at 24 facilities across the globe, we see the power of sunshine as an integral part of becoming a more sustainable company.”

— Rob Threlkeld, Global Manager of Renewable Energy at General Motors

Is Rob Threlkeld looking for solar to play a part in GM’s future growth? You can bet he is. Solar is becoming increasingly integrated into the business plans for companies both large and small, and you can also be sure that Threlkeld isn’t only talking about environmental sustainability.  For those who are watching current trends in the energy industry, the benefits of solar are pretty obvious, from environmental AND financial perspectives.

One big part sunny spot that solar is creating in the economy is job growth. The Solar Foundation’s latest National Solar Jobs Census is out, and the numbers are looking good for job growth in the solar sector. The Foundation’s seventh annual update on current employment in the U.S. solar industry found that employment increased by over 51,000 workers, a 25 percent increase over 2015.

Highlights from Solar Jobs Census 2016:

  1. One out of every 50 new jobs added in the United States in 2016 was created by the solar industry, representing 2% percent of all new jobs.

  2. Solar jobs in the United States have increased at least 20 percent per year for the past four years, and jobs have nearly tripled since the first Solar Jobs Census was released in 2010.

  3. Over the next 12 months, employers surveyed expect to see total solar industry employment increase by 10 percent to 286,335 solar workers.

  4. In 2016, the five states with the most solar jobs were California, Massachusetts, Texas, Nevada, and Florida.

“With a near tripling of solar jobs since 2010, the solar industry is an American success story that has created hundreds of thousands of well-paying jobs,” said Andrea Luecke, President and Executive Director of The Solar Foundation. “In 2016, we saw a dramatic increase in the solar workforce across the nation, thanks to a rapid decrease in the cost of solar panels and unprecedented consumer demand for solar installations. More than ever, it’s clear that solar energy is a low-cost, reliable, super-abundant American energy source that is driving economic growth, strengthening businesses, and making our cities smarter and more resilient.”

Nine percent of solar workers nationwide are veterans, compared to 7 percent in the overall U.S. workforce. Census 2016 also found that the percentage of solar workers who are women increased from 24 percent in 2015 to 28 percent in 2016, the percentage of African-American solar workers increased from 5 percent to 7 percent, and the percentage of Latino/Hispanic solar workers increased from 11 percent to 17 percent.

The Solar Foundation’s map of solar jobs is a graphic illustration of where the jobs are concentrated. The states of the South with the best solar resources generally show strong growth, but also the highly populated states of the Northeast coastal region. It’s no surprise that the states with the strongest growth are also generally those with the strongest state incentives programs for solar. With a changing political climate and demand for new solar leveling a bit this year, will the job growth continue?

According to the report, “Given the projected slowdown in 2017 employment growth to 10%, we expect less pressure on hiring nationally, although select states could experience difficulties. Hiring difficulty is also influenced by hiring in the related trades. If the economy—and specifically construction—remains strong, the solar industry will experience greater competition for workers, making it more difficult to hire, driving up wages and installation soft costs.”

However, many people are nervous about the recently posted “An America First Energy Plan” posted at the Whitehouse website. The President’s new plan says nothing about the boom in wind, solar, and energy efficiency that is creating millions of jobs, saving billions of dollars, and cutting pollution. Will the new administration’s fixation on outdated energy technology put the brakes on solar job growth?


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