7 Ways Solar is Killing It 1

Things are looking up for the solar energy industry. Its growth has skyrocketed over the past few years and is projected to endure. If current trends continue, solar will account for 10% of American electricity by 2022.
A diverse array of stakeholders is largely affected by this booming industry, from veterans to homeowners to that all-pervading stakeholder, the environment. To help understand the state of the industry and what’s on the horizon, here’s a list of the ways in which the solar energy industry is fast becoming one of the most valuable sectors in the nation.

1.       Solar is creating jobs.

The US solar sector is creating jobs at a rate ten times faster than the national average employment growth. Now employing over 142,000 people, the solar industry added more than 23,000 new jobs in 2013 alone. This is projected to grow upwards of 15% in 2014, when another 22,000 jobs are expected to emerge.

The majority of these jobs are in installation, followed in descending order by manufacturing, sales and distribution, project development, and other.

2.       Solar jobs offer good living wages.

According to The Solar Foundation’s (TSF) Solar Job Census 2013, solar job wages were found to be competitive with comparable sectors. Installers reported earning an average hourly wage of $23.63, which is commensurate with average wages for skilled electricians and more than the average wages of roofers, carpenters and other construction laborers. The average wage for production and assembly workers was slightly less than that of installers, at $18.23/hour. This exceeds the average for other electrical and electronic equipment assemblers by more than $3.50/hour.

One factor contributing to the competitive wages in the solar industry is the need for specifically skilled workers. While half of the employers surveyed in TSF’s Job Census were looking for workers with previous experience in the field, another 27.6% required at least a bachelor’s degree, and 13.1% sought workers with an associate’s degree or some other type of solar energy training. This is not a barrier to entry, though, as the NABCEP certification is highly accessible and constitutes a very worthwhile investment in one’s own skill set.

3.       Solar is all over the place.

It’s not just for the sunshine state and the sunny southwest. State-level policies and successful installation companies in a variety of states have brought solar en masse to every corner of the country. The report from TSF illustrates which states have the highest employment levels within the solar sector. Using the number of jobs as a proxy for the presence of solar in a given area, here is a ranking of the top 10 in 2013.

1)      California (47,223 solar jobs) 

2)      Arizona (8,558 solar jobs)

3)      New Jersey (6,500 solar jobs)

4)      Massachusetts (6,400 solar jobs)

5)      New York (5,000 solar jobs)

6)      Texas (4,100 solar jobs)

7)      Florida (4,000 solar jobs)

8)      Ohio (3,800 solar jobs)

9)      Colorado (3,600 solar jobs)

10)   North Carolina (3,100 solar jobs)


State Solar MapImage from The Solar Foundation

To see how your state ranks, check out TSF’s interactive map.

4.       Installing and using a solar system is more affordable than ever.

Yes, solar energy is good for the environment, but the leading motivator for going solar is still a financial one. According to CleanEdison, going solar is all about the money, despite being what is commonly perceived as an environmentally minded decision. Along with a very interestinginfographic on grid parity, an article in Cost of Solar asserts that, “solar power saves the average American who decides to go solar today over $20,000 over 20 years.”

The average installed system costs have decreased more than 50% since 2010, from $6.37/watt in Q1 of 2010 to $3.00/watt in Q3 of 2013. Similarly, at $0.70/watt in Q3 of 2013, module prices are less than a third of the cost than at the beginning of 2010. In many states, subsidized solar energy has already achieved grid parity, meaning that it costs as much as or less then than utility power. It’s no coincidence that most of these states are the same as those with the most solar jobs as illustrated in point no. 3 above.  According to a CleanTechnica article, installations of solar PV (photovoltaic) systems will double in the next six years, leading to grid parity around the world by 2020. The same article estimates that “solar PV will be cost-competitive with retail electricity prices without subsidies in nearly every electricity market by 2017.” This outlook may seem overly optimistic, but it’s certainly encouraging.

5.       Solar energy has government support.

Adding to the baseline affordability discussed in point no. 4, state and federal incentives bring the net costs down even further. After reviewing TSF’s state-by-state jobs report, Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) said, “By any measurement, these state-by-state jobs numbers represent a huge return on America’s investment in solar energy. Smart, effective and forward-looking public policies – such as the solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) and Net Energy Metering (NEM) – are driving solar deployment in all 50 states.”

As a federal credit that extends through 2016, that solar ITC that Resch mentions “provides market certainty for companies to develop long-term investments that drive competition and technological innovation, which in turn, lowers costs for consumers,” says the SEIA. While the implementations of net metering vary from state to state, steadfast federal-level incentives like the solar ITC are promising policies that lead to a positive outlook for solar energy in America.

6.       Solar engages a diverse collection of individuals.

While it’s not the most representative industry in the country, the solar sector outperforms related industries like construction, mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction in the area of employee diversity. The percentage of Latino/Hispanics and Asian/Pacific Islander workers in solar is roughly as representative as the overall U.S. workforce, according to the TSF Solar Jobs Census. Although women and racial minorities make up a smaller portion of solar workers than in the general U.S. economy, at 13,192, veterans in the solar workforce are shown to exceed the percentage of veterans in the overall U.S. workforce.

At 19%, women are not as represented in solar as in, say, manufacturing. However, as the TSF Census explains, “[women’s] role in all aspects of the value chain cannot be underestimated. A recent Women4Solar survey found that women represent the largest block of residential solar purchasing decision makers, suggesting that women are not only paying attention to industry trends but are driving adoption rates.” The findings of this survey suggest that, while women make up less than a fifth of the solar workforce, they play a major role in driving the solar market more generally.

7.       Oh yeah, it’s helping to save the planet too.

Lest we forget while wading through government rebates and energy savings, solar power is actually good for the environment, too. The more clean, renewable power we are producing, the less we have to rely on fossil fuels and the generators that consume those fossil fuels. Solar power allows us to reduce pollution, mitigate climate change through minimized CO2 emissions, and achieve energy independence. Furthermore, as the abundance of the sun’s rays is ceaseless and free, harnessing those rays as a form of renewable energy is the safest and most sustainable powering technology known to man.

Rose colored sunglasses?

With the exception of utility companies that don’t adapt to renewable energy, it appears there is no stakeholder that doesn’t qualify as a beneficiary of the solar energy industry. Among all these successes and satisfied parties, it’s easy to view the industry through rose colored sunglasses, but as an emerging technology driven by innovation, there have been, no doubt, some areas for improvement in solar power’s progress toward prominence. So what, if any, are the failures of solar, and how do we overcome them?

Original Article on CleanEdison Blog

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