Last year, we wrote about the US solar industry surpassing 100,000 jobs. With the industry expected to grow many times over in the coming years, especially with strong policy support, that number could grow substantially. A new independent research report released last week (while I was on my first little vacation in a couple years) has found that the industry could support hundreds of thousands of US jobs by 2020 (200,000 to 430,000 depending on various factors).
The report, “Assessment of Incentives and Employment Impacts of Solar Industry Deployment,” was conducted by the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
Commenting on the report, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) noted: “according to the report, diffusion of solar energy technology in the energy markets is very similar to the paths that many American industries have traveled to become mainstream. Unlike more mature technologies, however, that continue to receive subsidies, solar energy is currently in a very early phase of its growth trajectory.”
The small but loud group of individuals, industries, and politicians opposed to solar like to act as if solar is getting unfair subsidies from the government. This is completely absurd for many reasons, as I recently discussed, but one of the reasons I didn’t focus on in that article was actually the focus of this new report: historically, the US government has subsidized the energy sector and this has been important for the nation’s economic growth, and its support for solar is just continuing that trend. “We find that solar energy is following the same incentive-driven path as other traditional energy sources before it, consistent with the government’s decision to incentivize energy production for a variety of policy purposes,” the report states. Of course, this support offers many rewards. “We also conclude that the federal investment in solar energy could bring about a number of tangible benefits, including increased employment, global business opportunities, and energy supply diversity.”
Here are a few good charts from the report:
Will this report change the minds of the coal industry, nuclear industry, natural gas industry, or the politicians in their pockets? I don’t think so. However, it’s yet more independent guidance encouraging us to continue giving solar the boost it deserves.
Some more good comments and summarizing from SEIA:
The report finds that traditional fuels have been subsidized for decades – some like coal and oil for a century – and followed similar growth trajectories toward majority adoption. According to the Baker Center report, every significant energy resource deployed in the U.S. today has had approximately 30 years of innovation and early adoption before beginning rapid growth that brought about mainstream adoption.
The report also finds that solar energy has yielded significant public benefits in exchange for federal support. Earlier federal energy policy has helped maintain competition, provide for national security, promote economic development, meet public health and environmental quality standards, and increase energy security.
Additionally, the report points out that solar energy benefits the U.S. energy portfolio by decreasing the impact of supply disruptions and price volatility of other sources of energy. It is also notes that solar power is most efficient during periods of high demand, providing lower cost peak power rates for consumers.
Let’s keep supporting solar so that we can look back on the 100,000+ Americans employed today at 5,600 solar energy companies as just the beginning, and so that the record-breaking solar growth we are seeing continues at such a fast pace!
I'm the director of CleanTechnica, the most popular clean energy website in the world, and Planetsave, a leading green and science news site. I've been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and I've been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, bicycling, and wind energy for the past few years. You can also find my work on Scientific American, Reuters, Think Progress, GE's ecomagination site, several sites in the Important Media network, & many other places. To connect on your favorite social network, go to: zacharyshahan.com