The U.S. now has 142,698 employees working in the solar sector—up nearly 20 percent from the year before. That’s according to the the Solar Foundation’s (TSF’s) fourth annual National Solar Jobs Census, which was released yesterday (Jan. 27). Overall the growth rate eclipsed that of the national employment growth rate by about 10 times.
The census, by TSF and BW Research Partnership and support from the GW Solar Institute, found that the solar industryadded 23,682 in 2013, which it said was a 19.9 percent growth in employment since September 2012. And that’s just part of the picture. “The industry has grown an astounding 53 percent in the last four years alone, adding nearly 50,000 jobs,” said Andrea Luecke, president of TSF. The strongest growth is in the installation sector, which grew nearly 60 percent adding 25,000 jobs since TSF launched the census.
“The solar industry’s job-creating power is clear,” Luecke said. “Our Census findings show that for the fourth year running, solar jobs remain well-paid and attract highly-skilled workers. That growth is putting people back to work and helping local economies.”
“The study shows both aggressive hiring and clear optimism among US solar companies,” said Philip Jordan, Vice President at BW Research Partnership. “Of particular interest was the continued high wages amongsolar installers, who earned an average of between $20.00 and $23.63 per hour. We also found higher than average employment of veterans in the solar industry, a sign that their high-tech skills are valued in this sector.”
TSF anticipates that employment growth in the industry will continue. “With leading market analyses predicting continued growth in annual installed solar capacity, it is likely that the national solar workforce will continue to experience similar growth,” it said in the report. For instance in 2014 solar employers expect to add roughly 22,240 jobs or about 15.6 percent. Of all the solar companies surveyed, fully 45 percent expected to add more employees in 2014, according to the report.
SunPower is among those that plan to add positions in 2014. “We employ about 1,000 people at facilities in 10 states, and are actively hiring hundreds more,” said SunPower CEO Tom Werner. “Our network of approximately 400 dealers employs more than 6,000 across the U.S., and two of our major solar power plants last year created 1,300 jobs at peak construction,” he added.
“The solar industry is a proven job-creator,” said former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter (D), now director of the Center for the New Energy Economy at Colorado State University. “In Colorado and across the country, we have seen that when the right policies are in place to create long-term market certainty, this industry continues to add jobs to our economy.” Ritter was champion for renewable energy in Colorado while Governor, expanding the state’s renewable portfolio standard to 30 percent from 10 percent, among other efforts to encourage renewable energy like solar and wind.
The census also compared the growth in solar employment to that in the fossil fuel electric generation sector and in coal mining. But it found that in terms of fossil fuels, employment dropped by 8.7 percent, shedding 8,500 jobs. Meanwhile coal mining jobs grew by 0.25 percent, according to TSF’s findings.