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Job growth in the US solar industry has grown 123% since 2010

By Dr Anthony Horton

The Solar Foundation’s National Solar Jobs Census 2015 report has revealed very impressive growth in the United States solar industry. The 2015 edition which was published earlier this month is the sixth published by the Foundation and discusses employment growth, trends and projected growth in the industry based on responses from 400,000 manufacturing, construction, engineering and sales companies.

The 2015 Census reports that the US solar industry has outpaced most of the other sectors of the United States economy and workers are being employed approximately 12 times faster than the overall United States economy. As an industry it now represents 1.2% of all jobs created in the last year (1 in every 83 jobs). Long term research by The Solar Foundation has shown that the number of jobs in the United States solar industry has grown by 123% since 2010 and has resulted in more than 115,000 new jobs over that time. As of November last year, approximately 209,000 workers were employed in the United States solar industry. This represents a growth rate of 20.2% compared to November 2014. Over the next 12 months job growth in the United States solar industry is expected to exceed 14% to approximately 240,000 jobs.

In addition to these very impressive statistics, the Census reported a number of other findings including the following:

  • United States solar industry employment grew by approximately 20% in 2015 for the third consecutive year
  • the United States solar industry is a major source of new jobs
  • employees of solar installation companies accounted for approximately 66% of the new jobs added in 2015
  • the solar installation sector employs 77% more people than the US coal mining industry
  • since 2014, the solar installation sector has created more jobs than oil and gas pipeline construction, crude petroleum and natural gas extraction combined
  • demand side sectors (e.g. installation, sales and distribution and project development) represent approximately 80% of the overall solar industry employment
  • approximately 63% of the 209,000 jobs are in the residential market, 15% in the commercial market and the remaining 22% are in the utility scale project development
  • women now represent a higher percentage of the solar industry workforce than ever before.

The Solar Foundation’s National Solar Jobs Census 2015 noted that a combination of trends and policies have combined to facilitate a significant opportunity for stronger growth in the sector. The following were highlighted in the conclusions and recommendations section of the Census report:

  • the cost of solar power is decreasing
  • the US Federal Investment Tax Credit is being extended to 2021
  • the US Clean Power Plan has realised reductions in power plant fossil fuel use
  • State renewable portfolio standards
  • other state and local incentives
  • global momentum from the Paris Climate Change Conference.

The Census also discussed the following barriers:

  • continued decline in fossil fuel prices (especially natural gas)
  • legal challenges that could jeopardise the Clean Power Plan
  • changes in state net metering laws that discourage distributive power generation
  • skill shortages in workers.

The Solar Foundation made a number of recommendations to maintain strong solar job growth:

  • promote stability in state and federal policy
  • maintain programs to facilitate employment in the solar industry for veterans of the United States armed forces
  • support worker evaluation efforts and the development of comprehensive assessment tools
  • support early stage research and development, finance and commercialisation.

The report noted that policy stability was critical to help bring the industry to scale and certainty over a number of years was important to leverage project financing such as Master Limited Partnerships, Solar Real Estate Investment Trusts and the securitisation of solar assets.

In terms of employment for United States veterans, the report recommended that the solar industry participate in the White House’s Joining Forces initiative and/or the Department of Energy Solar Ready Vet’s program which prepares them for careers as photovoltaic system installers, sales representatives, system inspectors and other related jobs.

Developing a comprehensive set of worker assessment tools that evaluate all aspects of a candidate’s suitability for employment (rather than just focusing on their technical skills) can avoid issues such as relying too heavily on experience. Relying on experience may result in companies overlooking qualified but inexperienced candidates.

Investment in early stage finance and research and development has decreased as a result of ongoing lower solar equipment prices. Technical innovation is critical for the long term competitiveness of the industry. Low returns on research and development investments are expected in the private sector in the United States and private funding gaps are likely to persist. Therefore there will be increased need for public sector support

rWdMeee6_pe About the author: Anthony Horton holds a PhD in Environmental Science, a Bachelor of Environmental Science with Honours and a Diploma of Carbon Management. He has a track record of delivering customised solutions in Academia, Government, the Mining Industry and Consulting based on the latest wisdom and his scientific background and experience in Climate/Atmospheric Science and Air Quality. Anthony’s work has been published in internationally recognised scientific journals and presented at international and national conferences, and he is currently on the Editorial Board of the Journal Nature Environment and Pollution Technology. Anthony also blogs on his own site, The Climate Change Guy.

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  1. Bronte ALLAN

    Great to hear about this, but why? After all abscess & his flat earth society mob all maintain that all this “energy from the sun ” is just hot air? We here in the driest Continent in the world should be the World’s pacesetters when it comes to renewable energy sources like the Sun & winds. Unfortunately with all these right wing, tea party, flat earth, conservative, lying idiots in “charge” we have no show of ever achieving anything like what the States & other “sensible” countries are doing!

  2. Paul Murchie

    Bronte ALLAN ( : i don’t need to say anything after that ! ( : cheers

  3. jim

    The Liberals just love the TPP $6 per hour for us after it’s ratified ; ““A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within. An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and carries his banner openly. But the traitor moves amongst those within the gate freely, his sly whispers rustling through all the alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself. For the traitor appears not a traitor; he speaks in accents familiar to his victims, and he wears their face and their arguments, he appeals to the baseness that lies deep in the hearts of all men. He rots the soul of a nation, he works secretly and unknown in the night to undermine the pillars of the city, he infects the body politic so that it can no longer resist. A murderer is less to fear.” The LNP selling us out to corporations.

  4. Roswell

    I’d love to know the Australian comparison.

  5. Wally


    As an electrical inspector in Victoria I can assure you that our solar industry has shrunk significantly over the last 3 – 4 years. The first slow down was when the feed in tariff was dropped from 60 cents to 30 cents and dropping the feed in tariff to 5.2 cents in January 2016 has driven the last nail in the coffin. At the industries peak I was inspecting up to 50 installations a month, I would be surprised if I got close to 50 inspections for new solar installations for all of 2015. Including a job that come in this afternoon I have inspected 3 new solar systems to date this year.

    Return on investment is the objective of people who install solar systems and receiving 5.2 cents for power fed back to the grid is not enough, particularly when you consider that retailers are charging over 32 cents. You need to put 5 Kw/hrs into the grid to get 1 Kw/hr back when your demand exceeds what the solar system is generating. A 1 for 1 basis less 10% withheld by the retailer to cover their costs would turn the industry around but obviously the LNP are more interested in selling coal.

    Installing a new solar system is still beneficial for people who are home during the day, if they use the solar as it is generated they are saving the full retail price which exceeds 30 cents per Kw/hr. Unfortunately in these days with both parents working in many households the number of families who can get a reasonable return on an investment in a solar system is limited.

    In just five years the number of Australian solar PV systems went from 8,000 to 1,000,000

    Solar will be a very substantial contributor to our energy system by 2050. Australia is the sunniest continent on Earth (GA-ABARE, 2010), and Australian scientists have long led innovation in many aspects of solar technology so we are well-placed to make this energy transformation. Not with this federal government.

  6. Wally

    I probably should have stated in my comment at 12:52 that it refers specifically to Grid Connected Solar Systems and that in Victoria it is compulsory for all new solar systems to be certified by a licensed electrical inspector. The feed in tariffs, the cost of power and regulatory requirements differ from state to state but the trend to lower feed in tariffs and increase electricity prices applies to varying extents in all states.

  7. Terry2

    Oh dear, Dr Horton, I don’t think you’re allowed to mention these facts, are you ?

    A former PM might have asked ” whose side are you on ?”

  8. jimhaz

    I wonder for how long this form of responsible growth will occur.

    From Wiki

    “Trump has called global warming “a total hoax”.[ He has also stated that “the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive,” although he later clarified that this was a joke. He has said that “the EPA is an impediment to both growth and jobs”. Trump supports increased fracking and has criticized sustainable wind power alternatives, stating that “windmills are destroying every country they touch” while producing “unreliable and terrible” energy.”

    “Cruz disagrees with scientific opinion on climate change. He has said that “the scientific evidence doesn’t support global warming.” He has stated: “They call anyone who questions the science who even points to the satellite data – they call you a, quote, “denier.” Denier is not the language of science. Denier is the language of religion. It is heretic. You are a blasphemer. It’s treated as a theology. But it’s about power and money. At the end of the day, it’s not complicated. This is liberal politicians who want government power.” In March 2015, he said that some people are “global warming alarmists” and, citing satellite temperature measurements, said that there had been no significant warming in 18 years.”

    These people are like Abbott and his religious insane clown posse.

  9. Geoff Andrews

    As long as the new battery manufacturers like Tesla can be prevented from forming a cartel, it will be interesting to see how quickly the price of batteries falls, as every other technological innovation has done; how long before a cpmplete system becomes attractive to the working family.

  10. Wally

    Geoff Andrews

    The cost to install and maintain a hybrid solar system with lead acid batteries is approx. 22 cents per Kw/hr, the competitive pricing of Tesla power wall comes in at about 2 cents per Kw/hr higher. Investing $20k to save around 10 cents per Kw/hr makes it a long pay back period.

    Like grid connect solar systems the cost of hybrid systems is falling. Typical house in Victoria would only save a bit over $1 a day but NSW with extremely expensive power between 3-10 pm (or similar) has the potential for a faster return on investment.

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