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Published on July 22nd, 2014 | by Christopher DeMorro

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The U.S Has More Solar Workers Than Coal Miners

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July 22nd, 2014 by  

energy-78116_1280

Though solar power is still far from surpassing coal as America’s primary energy source, the number of people employed by the solar industry has surpassed the number of coal miners. The non-profit Solar Foundation estimates that there are about 142,000 people in the U.S. workforce who spend “at least 50% of their time supporting solar-related activities,” according to Business Insider.

So what does this mean for the future of energy in America? Quite simply put, it highlights how solar power is growing at a rapid pace, with record-breaking 43 GWH estimated to be installed around the world this year, and the U.S. is estimated to make up about 6.6 GWH of those new installations. Other nations, including China and India, are investing even more heavily into solar though, and the race is on to make clean energy a cornerstone of every economy.

Meanwhile, the EPA is putting pressure on coal power plants to either clean up their act, or convert to natural gas power. This has sent coal mining employment plummeting in the past few decades, though the industry maintains a ruthless grip on many politicians on both the local and national level. Also, when you factor in every aspect of coal production and transportation, the fossil fuel industry still dwarfs solar power.

The tide is slowly changing in favor of solar power though, and as more Americans become employed by the solar industry, opposition is likely to decrease while interest is only going to increase. It might be a good time to make some choice investments in the solar industry, as it looks set to only continue to grow.

 

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About the Author

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or esle, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.



  • Coalminer
    • Bob_Wallace

      Please don’t post naked links. If you think they say something important then summarize the information and say why you think it important. Use the link to back up your point.

      No one wants to spend time opening links and going on a fishing expedition.

  • DRocco

    This isn’t a very apples-to-apples comparison. How many people spend at least 50 percent of their time supporting coal-related activities?

  • cactuspie

    “the EPA is putting pressure on coal power plants”
    Best laugh I’ve had in a while.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Brings joy to the hearts of all who care about our future.

  • Nicko Thime

    Headlines you’ll never see.
    “50 Solar Workers Trapped After Massive Solar Spill.”
    “River Choked By Solar Ash.”
    “Solar Fallout Causes Region to Become Uninhabitable”

    • Bob_Wallace

      And you’ll never be stopped at a railway crossing waiting for a solar train to clear the tracks…

      • Nicko Thime

        High Speed rail is electric.
        Electric high speed rail is the most energy efficient of all trains.

    • Doug Cutler

      Solar headlines you’ll never see . . . I like it. Lets keep that going:

      “Sun Incinerates Town Centre – Kills 47 – Canadian Government Picks Up Tab for 100s of Millions” (Lac Megantic, Quebec – 2013)

      “Sunlight So Thick It Blocks Out the Sun”

      “Peak Sun in 4 Billion Years a Big Concern”

      Anybody got more? Nice theme, Nicko.

      • Calamity_Jean

        More headlines you’ll never see . . . . . . . . . .

        “Solar train derailment pollutes river, drinking water intakes closed for miles downstream.”

        “Increased solar emissions cause spike in asthma cases, heart attacks. Health authorities warn children and elderly to stay indoors.”

  • anon

    And at four times the cost.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Yes, somewhat.

      New coal is at least 4x as expensive as new wind. Paid off coal is 3x to 4x as much as paid off wind. Unless you add in external costs and then coal earns a lot more “x”s.

      New coal is about 2x as expensive as new solar. Paid off coal is 3x to 4x as much as paid off solar. Unless you add in external costs and then coal earns a lot more “x”s.

  • Ruri Hoshino

    Solar inherently requires more man hours per megawatt then coal at this point.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Possibly. But in terms of energy produced per person hour things play out differently.

      The coal miner is extracting some fossil fuel that will burn up in minutes (or less). (And a lot of that energy will turn into waste heat, serving no useful purpose.)

      The installed solar panels will produce electricity for several decades.

      • Marion Meads

        And solar PV does not disrupt the earth’s energy balance that much regardless of their efficiencies. All the electricity produced by solar PV ultimately becomes heat, as well as the remainder of radiation that are not converted into electricity, also becomes heat, so that the total heat is exactly equal the amount of heat from solar radiation striking the same surface area.

    • Sam N

      I don’t quite understand why this is necessarily bad though. In terms of the structure of an economy, wouldn’t this mean more jobs?

      The issue is then, cost/output (efficiency) measured as $/kWh produced. I don’t know the figures, maybe somebody here does, but that means whatever costs less to produce, renewables vs coal, that technology provides a better outcome for the economy upon up scaling employment.

    • weharc

      Partly because it’s in a establishment phase. Also think about what is being compared above – all solar workers, vs coal miners. Doesn’t factor in workers related to coal transportation and electricity production via coal.

      During a coal mines establishment there are a lot of jobs. Once the mine is in full production the jobs are reduced as production becomes routine. At an industry level this is similar to what is happening to renewable energy.

      • Doug Cutler

        Also doesn’t factor in health care workers treating persons with fossil fuel particulate related ailments: cancer, heart disease, asthma.

  • LondonTiger

    Solar is a no brainer. I love the stuff. But solar cannot be used on its own.

    Solar only captures light during the day, so if you want all day long electricity you have to store the electricity in batteries. Expensive, harmful, low durability litium ion batteries!

    That can’t be good for the environment and each battery probably costs about as much as it costs to buy electricity from the grid for 5-10 years!

    The solution is to bypass the battery so you run off solar directly into the mains in your home – bypassing the battery.

    Any surplus gets sent to the grid. During the evenings you take electricity off the grid.

    That’s the most proactical way to do it. Perhaps can be combined with wind and tidal power to produce 24 hour source of energy.

    • weharc

      Solar thermal uses daytime solar energy to heat salt which is then used all day long to power turbines. I think this is the long term answer to solar energy providing a large amount of various countries energy needs.

    • wifather2000

      A sealed lead acid battery, properly sized, will last for many years.

      • LondonTiger

        lead acid batteries are good for cars, for low voltage use that always stay within 80-100% capacity. Lead acid batteries drastically shorten their lifespan when they go from full to near emptry – they are supposed to stay above 80%.

        Lead acid batteries also have max 5 year shelf life. It would be extremely bad for the environment if every home had 30 car batteries stored in their basement – that needed to be replaced every 5 years.

        • wifather2000

          The average home would not need anywheres close to 30 batteries and they would last, if sized correctly 15-20 years and are easily recycled. As far as using car batteries, this explains your complete lack of ANY ability to post about this subject!

        • Bob_Wallace

          Not car batteries. Deep cycle lead acid batteries. Much thicker plates.

          The new Trojan RE series (designed for renewable energy systems) are rated at 4,000 cycles at 20% discharge (80% capacity remaining). That’s 11 years.

          There’s probably nothing as well recycled as lead acid batteries. Material recovery is very high.

    • Amar_Kumar

      Technology available to store heat and use to generate electricity during night time using molten salt. no need to store in battery.

  • EnTill

    It also says something about how inefficient solar power is if it takes a lot more man-hours to run solar power than coal power.

    • andereandre

      In fact it doesn’t.
      If coal remained the same then employment would stay the same for eternity.
      Solar employment will drop to very low at some point in the future because at some point no more installations are reasonable or needed. That point is so very far away though that it should not worry you if your are looking for a job in the solar industry.

      • MarTams

        Long after we finished installing a terawatt of solar power, there would be at least an order of magnitude of people still working in the solar industry compared with coal industry, and these people will be doing repairs, maintenance and upgrades, and given that there will be robots that does the dust cleaning of the panels. Given that a significant portion would be distributed solar on residential and business rooftop, there is plenty of opportunity and so the business will be really huge for maintenance services. It is still a long way before saturation. Remember that we would still have to replace the dino fueled cars with electric batteries recharged by solar.

      • LondonTiger

        solar maintenance will always be required. The arguement is same as saying “evertually we wont need any more housebuilders because everyone has a house”. Truth is houses need to be flattened every 100 or so years to build new ones. Solar panels have far shorter life spans.

        • Calamity_Jean

          “Solar panels have far shorter life spans.”

          You don’t know that, nobody does. They haven’t existed for 100 years yet. There’s solar panels 40 years old that are still pushing out watts.

          • LondonTiger

            well being an owner of several panels. I can tell you for sure that solar panels are a lot more delicate than roof tiles.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Well, don’t jump up and down on them.

            Apply common sense. Can’t hurt.

          • A Real Libertarian

            Apply common sense. Can’t hurt.

            Then why do nuclear proponents burst into flames every time somebody points out that “coal vs. nukes” is a false dilemma?

          • Calamity_Jean

            “Then why do nuclear proponents burst into flames every time somebody points out that “coal vs. nukes” is a false dilemma?”

            Maybe nuclear proponents don’t like common sense.

          • Bob_Wallace

            It’s because you’re snatching away one of the few last straws they have to cling to.

    • MarTams

      The number of people working in a particular technology in the energy sector is not a measure of the technology’s efficiency.

      • wifather2000

        Electrical generation at best is 40% efficient. With a transmission system that is also 40% efficient the combined efficiency is 18%. Solar panels at the point of use easily top this.

        • Bob_Wallace

          “With a transmission system that is also 40% efficient”

          What are you talking about?

          • wifather2000

            DUH!!! Please explain what you know about the electrical generation and transmission system in America!

          • Bob_Wallace

            What I understand is that transmission and distribution losses are about 6% and dropping.

            http://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=105&t=3

            What are you talking about with your 40% stuff?

          • SolarmanSF

            So what you are saying is the losses are dropping as the infrastructure ages? nonsensical I have always been told it’s closer to 50% but have never researched as this information came from folks with 30+ years in distribution

          • Bob_Wallace

            You could open the link and see what the US Department of Energy has to say….

  • Alexander Dudley

    This is where sunny Australia should be, and would be, if it weren’t for successive fossil fool prime ministers.

    • LondonTiger

      Australia and Canada have very large land masses and low population. Fossil fuels are very very cheap for your guys.

    • Boris Wigglebotton

      Australia is doing better on solar per capita than the US

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