Posted on Friday May 12, 2017
During 2010 when this country was in the midst of the financial housing crisis, I was working as a real estate broker, attempting to eke out a living. As I saw businesses shuttered and homes going into foreclosure, I looked around my community and saw what seemed to be the only industry actively hiring, and that booming industry was solar. I landed my first job in solar in early 2011 when I joined a start-up rooftop company in New Mexico. I finally had regular work accompanied by a consistent flow of income. This new job and change in outlook led me to believe that solar saved my life.
Today, the number of people working in the solar industry is making headlines. Recently, a lead story in the New York Times indicated the total number of people working in the solar industry far outnumbered those working in coal, which is notable considering our current administration’s desire to ignore the potential of solar and instead focus on bringing coal jobs back. A report delivered by the Solar Foundation’s 2016 National Solar Job Census states solar jobs are increasing in most states with 2016 being the fourth consecutive year of solar job growth of 25% or greater.
Rapid growth in the U.S. solar industry is helping to drive the economy, deliver higher paying wages, and support a move towards a national adoption of renewable energy with less dependency on fossil fuels.
According to the same report by the Solar Foundation, more than 260,000 people work full time in the solar industry. More people are working in solar than those that are employed at Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Apple combined. Last year, one out of every 50 new jobs created in the U.S. was created by the solar industry.
Most solar jobs are concentrated in certain states, rather than evenly distributed across the country, leaving a just handful of states leading this solar job revolution. The top five states ranked by the number of solar jobs are California, Massachusetts, Texas, Nevada, and Florida. The majority of the positions belong to installers, with manufacturing, sales, and project development jobs rounding out the mix. The median wage of a solar installer is $26/hour. Simply put, the solar industry and its workers stimulate the economy. According to Solar Jobs Census – 2016 Economic Impact Analysis, the industry added $84 billion to the nation’s GDP in 2016. As more states recognize the positive impacts and long-term benefits of solar, solar jobs and economic growth will surely distribute more evenly across the country.
Clearly, solar jobs are a direct result of greater solar adoption by individuals, commercial customers, and municipalities. This growth of the industry and subsequent jobs is trending upward. Last year, the U.S. installed 14,762 MWdc of solar PV which was double what was installed in 2015. A record 22 states each added more than 100 MW of solar capacity. Likewise, it is important to acknowledge that utilities are contributing to these growth trends. Looking ahead, it is expected that more than half of annual solar PV capacity from non-residential customers will come from off-site projects – community solar, Virtual Net Energy Metering (VNEM), and wholesale solar.
Looking specifically at community solar, the outlook for growth is just as encouraging. This year community solar is expected to consistently drive 20% - 25% of the annual non-residential PV market, becoming a multi-gigawatt per year market by 2020. If the previous pace of growth provides any indication of a future pace, the 218 MW of community solar capacity installed during 2016 could mean that the target of 410 MW for 2017 is very likely achievable.
As solar energy becomes less of a political statement and more of an economic decision, more people, businesses, and communities are turning to solar as their primary source of electricity. As demand grows, there will be more jobs available to displaced coal workers, military veterans, and trained professionals, leading to statewide and eventually national economic bolstering.
Back in 2011, I was the 15th employee to join that rooftop company. Today, that same firm is hiring and continuing to install residential, commercial, and utility-scale arrays throughout the state. Their workforce and reputation as a top employer are growing as they add installers and trained professionals to the payroll.
Join the campaign to bring community solar to every neighborhood in the nation. Gain access to the tools that will make your projects a success. Share the details of your developments for others to see and repeat your achievements. Contribute to your community by providing the choice of clean and affordable electricity to everyone.