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Sunny Days Ahead For Solar Energy If “Historic” Job-Creating Pace Endures

The solar energy workforce skyrocketed last year and the pace of growth is likely to continue as solar culture takes hold in the US, Trump or no Trump.

Solar energy jobs are booming, according to the non-profit Solar Foundation. The organization’s annual National Solar Jobs Census for 2016 showed that the solar industry’s contribution to the national employment picture is significant, adding up to one out of every 50 new jobs created last year.

That kind of firepower makes the solar workforce a political force. President Donald Trump has already riled up practically the entire tech industry over the Muslim ban, with more than 100 top companies joining the ACLU and other stakeholders in a legal battle against it. Provoking the solar industry could yield similar results.

The 2016 National Solar Jobs Census

The Solar Foundation has described last year’s solar jobs growth as running at a historic pace, and they’re not kidding:

The National Solar Jobs Census 2016 found that solar industry employment growth outpaced the overall U.S. economy by 17 times as it increased by over 51,000 jobs, for a total of 260,077 U.S. solar workers.

Percentage wise, the industry achieved a growth rate of 25% over 2015. That beats the rate of growth for every other Solar Foundation census going back to the first one in 2010.

Solar Energy Can Surprise You

On a state by state basis, California came in first for highest number of total solar jobs. That’s no surprise given its size and its favorable policies for solar energy and other clean tech.

California is also staking out a leadership position in terms of making solar energy affordable. The new solar seed fund RE-volve, for example, chose the University of California – Santa Barbara as one of three launch sites for a nationwide affordable solar program.

Of the remaining top five job-creating states for solar energy, three may surprise you. Texas, Florida, and Nevada all made the top five despite the outsized influence of Republican party members on energy policy in those states.

The state of Massachusetts is also a bit of a surprise. Unlike the other top five, Massachusetts can hardly claim fame for a warm, sunny, solar-friendly climate. However, this deep blue state shows that favorable policies can counterbalance less than ideal conditions.

Here’s an infographic that lays it all out:

Political Force Aligns For Solar Energy

The Trump Muslim ban is being decided in court today, following on the national uproar that erupted after Trump’s January 27 executive order abruptly stopped entry to the U.S. by citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries, even those with valid green cards or visas.

The problem for the Trump Administration is that global culture is firmly entrenched in the US, especially in recent years as global connections have flourished alongside the growth of the tech field.

The Muslim ban effectively united the tech industry, workers, and consumers all together in a common interest.

As the culture of solar technology becomes more deeply embedded in the American energy landscape, a similar kind of connectivity is emerging.

Here’s the Solar Foundation President and Executive Director Andrea Luecke connecting the dots:

…the solar industry is an American success story that has created hundreds of thousands of well-paying jobs…In 2016, we saw a dramatic increase in the solar workforce across the nation, thanks to a rapid decrease in the cost of solar panels and unprecedented consumer demand for solar installations. More than ever, it’s clear that solar energy is a low-cost, reliable, super-abundant American energy source that is driving economic growth, strengthening businesses, and making our cities smarter and more resilient.

US Vets For Solar

Speaking of solar jobs, some of the political force supporting continued growth in the solar industry could come from an important sector of the population, US military veterans.

The solar industry positioned itself as a veteran-friendly opportunity throughout the Obama Administration, and last year the Solar Foundation pumped the hire-a-vet scenario up a notch or two.

In partnership with the outgoing Obama Administration, last spring the organization rolled out a new program called Solar Ready Vets. Based on a 2015 pilot program, Solar Ready Vets is designed to train active duty military for solar jobs before they reach the end of their stints. That way they can hit the ground running after their discharge.

The jobs are certainly out there if the growth rate continues. Here’s the rundown from the 2016 Solar Jobs Census:

Solar job growth in 2016 took place in all job sectors, including a 26 percent growth in manufacturing companies to 38,121 jobs nationwide. Installation jobs increased by 14 percent to a total of 137,133 jobs. Project development jobs increased by 53 percent to 34,400 jobs, while sales and distribution jobs increased by 32 percent to 32,147 jobs.

The 800 pound gorilla in the solar jobs room is President Trump, but if nationwide reaction to the transparently bigoted Muslim ban is any indication, it looks like nothing can stop solar jobs from continuing to grow this year.

Follow me on Twitter and Google+.

Image (screenshot): via The Solar Foundation.

 
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Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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