One out of every 50 new US jobs in 2016 was in the solar industry according to a new survey published by the nonprofit Solar Foundation. This is an increase of nearly 25% since 2015 with total solar employment now exceeding 260,000 Americans.
This survey suggests that a massive increase in solar panel installations lead to an explosion in solar job growth in 2016. According to Andrea Luecke, executive director of the Solar Foundation, the rise in solar installations was caused by a rapid decrease in the cost of panels and an unprecedented increase consumer demand. Newly installed solar capacity is projected to reach a record 14 gigawatts (GW) in 2016, almost twice the 7.5 GW installed in 2016. Solar is expected to exceed all other sources of new electric generating capacity for the year.
Solar jobs have not grown evenly across states. The survey found that California is the largest employer of the solar industry, followed by Massachusetts, Texas, Nevada, and Florida. The map below shows the distribution of solar jobs across the US.
According to the survey, 44 of the 50 states saw an increase in the number of solar jobs in 2016. And while the number of women as a percentage of the solar workforce has been disappointingly low in recent years, 2016 saw the percentage of women in solar jump to 28% as compared to 18.7% in 2013.
The chart below shows the growth of solar jobs by type of job. The majority of new solar jobs are in installation, and have a median wage of $26 per hour. Additionally, 67% of solar jobs do not require a Bachelor’s degree which makes them accessible to much broader swaths of the labor force relative to other comparable jobs.
Source: The Solar Foundation
The solar supply chain is naturally labor-intensive. It requires manufacturing panels, designing solar systems, marketing the panels to homes, businesses and utilities, and then installing the panels. While solar accounts for just a fraction of America’s electricity (~1.3%), a lot of jobs are required to install each solar system.
This survey comes a month after the US Department of Energy (DOE) released a study that found more Americans work in solar than at fossil fuel power plants. While this is a promising trend, the fossil fuel industry also includes millions of other direct and indirect jobs related to exploration, production, processing, transmission, and distribution.
The latest solar job numbers from both the Solar Foundation and the DOE are significant. The dramatic growth of the solar industry over the last decade is not expected to stagnate in 2017. Solar jobs are conservatively projected to rise 10% this year despite the uncertainty surrounding the solar investment tax credit, the U.S. Clean Power Plan, and trade with China under a Trump Administration. Despite the proposals coming out of the Trump administration, a post-election survey found that 7 in 10 Trump voters support providing tax rebates to people who purchase energy efficient vehicles and solar panels.