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

The 2015 Census reports that the US solar industry has outpaced most other sectors of the United States economy, and that workers in this field are being employed approximately 12 times faster than others in the 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 found 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 this time. As of November last year, approximately 209 000 workers were employed in the United States solar industry alone. 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%, equalling 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 new jobs 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, 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, with 15% in the commercial market, and the remaining 22% in 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’ also notes that a combination of trends and policies have combined to facilitate a significant opportunity for stronger growth in this sector. The following points are 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
  • An increase in state renewable portfolio standards
  • A rise in other state and local incentives
  • Global momentum has arisen as a result of 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 also made a number of recommendations to maintain strong solar industry 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, 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 eligible individuals 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.

Technical innovation is critical for the long-term competitiveness of the US solar industry

Investment in early stage finance, 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 US solar 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 an increased need for public sector support of early stage research and commercialisation.

See The Solar Foundation’s National Solar Jobs Census 2015 report here

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