Clean Power

Published on May 7th, 2012 | by Zachary Shahan


US Solar Industry Could Employ 200,000 to 430,000 by 2020

May 7th, 2012 by  

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!

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About the Author

is tryin' to help society help itself (and other species) with the power of the typed word. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director and chief editor, but he's also the president of Important Media and the director/founder of EV Obsession, Solar Love, and Bikocity. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, and energy storage expert. Zach has long-term investments in TSLA, FSLR, SPWR, SEDG, & ABB — after years of covering solar and EVs, he simply has a lot of faith in these particular companies and feels like they are good cleantech companies to invest in.

  • New natural gas generation will increase by 22 GW in the next ten years. This will create many more long term jobs and reliable energy.. Solar will be a minute percentage in comparison. It’s time to stop the corporate welfare to wind and soar.

    • Ross

      You’re clearly misinformed. Wind and Solar are going to add a lot more than that to the US grid in the next decade and in another 10 years it will be so mainstream that people like you will be pretending they always supported renewables.

  • Ross

    Some nice graphs there.

  • Captivation

    Obama should be talking about this every time the GOP claims that there are no jobs in green energy. Even if it can’t penetrate the wall of conservative propaganda, it still needs to be in the public record so that future generations can look back and see which politicians were honest.

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