US Solar Industry Jobs Grow 6.8% to August, 20%+ Expected in Next 12 Months

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Infographic courtesy of The Solar Foundation

The US solar industry created jobs at a 6.8% pace in the year through August 2011. That compares to the expected 0.7% job growth rate for the US economy overall economy and a 2% net job loss in fossil fuel power generation, according to The US Solar Foundation’s second annual US solar workforce review.

More than 17,198 solar employment sites employing 100,237 individuals were identified in the “National Solar Jobs Census 2011: A Review of the U.S. Solar Workforce,” which was conducted by The Solar Foundation in partnership with GreenLMI and Cornell University.

State, Federal Policies Big Factor

California continued to rank at the top of US states in solar employment with 25,575 workers. Colorado, Arizona, Pennsylvania, New York, Florida, Texas, Oregon, New Jersey and Massachusetts, respectively, rounded out the top 10.

The six states where solar employment was growing the fastest were Colorado, Arizona, Florida, Oregon, New Jersey and Massachusetts.

The results show that strong state solar and renewable energy policies are contributing to jobs growth, Wendy Mitchell, CEO of the Aurora Economic Development Council in Colorado, noted.

“States like Colorado see solar as one of the cornerstones for our economy now and into the future,” said Wendy.

“Both GE Solar’s announcement to locate their new $300 million solar manufacturing plant in Aurora (which will create 355 new direct solar jobs) and the results of the National Solar Jobs Census show that Colorado’s investment in the solar industry is paying off in good jobs for skilled workers. It is important that we continue to promote this job-generating industry both at the state and federal level.”

A Much-Needed Reference

The report is noteworthy in a number of respects, but particularly for its value as one of perhaps only a few comprehensive, nationwide primary research studies and references on solar industry jobs. It includes data from more than 2,100 solar company survey respondents across the industry value chain, from installation, wholesale trade, manufacturing, utilities and other fields.

As such, it can prove invaluable in helping inform job seekers and energy policymakers, as well as industry participants, both in the US and internationally. “The National Solar Jobs Census is an important reference because the previous lack of data about solar employment was presenting difficulties to policymakers and training providers,” commented Philip Jordan, chief business officer at BW Research Partnership.

“The Solar Foundation is helping to fill that gap with solid research that allows us to draw important conclusions about the solar industry with a high degree of confidence, while giving training providers, job seekers, and the general public the critical information they need to understand the solar labor market.”

Good Tidings for Next 12 Months

Good news for job seekers as well as renewable and clean energy supporters, Census researchers also found that solar industry employers expect to add another 24% more jobs – that’s an additional 24,000 – by August, 2012. Nearly half of the solar industry companies that responded to the survey said they planned to add jobs over the next year.

Remember, this was as of end August, however. Some long shadows have been cast over the economy, including doubts about the future of the Treasury 1603 grant program and renewable energy investment tax credits, as well as the political scandal and media dog pile that’s come about as a result of the failure of Solyndra.

Furthermore, it looks like the solar industry is entering a period of consolidation, as the price of solar cells and modules continues to decline and the shares of solar power companies take a pounding, which makes acquisitions cheaper.

If European Union leaders don’t find a viable solution, or at least one perceived by the financial markets as viable, and the banking crisis worsens, all bets are off. Another banking crisis and global recession would be likely, according to economic and financial market analysts.

The Solar Foundation’s executive director did add a word of caution about future expectations. “These survey responses merely reflect employers’ best estimates at expected new hiring, but it demonstrates a clear growth pattern for the industry and tremendous optimism by employers in the industry,” she said.

“Employers expressed similar optimism last year, but failed to meet their hiring expectations because of stalled legislative initiatives and continued policy uncertainty.”

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