New Next-Gen Manufacturing Report Shows How Solar Jobs Can Grow, Even Without The Sun

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The US solar industry seems to be holding its own in the aftermath of the solar tariff debacle. Much of the damage was done last year, when the Trump Administration dithered over whether there should be a tariff or not. Well, the tariff went into effect on February 8, solar jobs could be growing again, and a new report on next-generation manufacturing indicates that things are only just getting started.

(For more tariff coverage, check out this article on the impact of state policy on the solar industry, this other one on the make-or-break impact of state policy, and one from our sister site on the Elon Musk angle).

Next-Generation Manufacturing In Oregon

The new report, The Oregon Jobs Project: A Guide to Creating Jobs in Next-Generation Manufacturing, was  produced by the American Jobs Project as part of its state-by-state reporting. The series seeks to provide state-specific strategies that take advantage of the growing advanced energy sector to create good-paying, local jobs.

Last month AJP was in the media spotlight for a similar report on New Mexico, which noted that increasing efforts to manufacture advanced solar technology in the state could double the number of solar jobs in the state to 6,800 annually.

That’s fine for sun-drenched New Mexico, but what about states in the rainy Pacific Northwest?

AJP has some good news on that score. The new report describes the potential for an overall job growth in Oregon’s advanced energy field of more than 65,000 annually.

The key factor is the increased efficiency from next-gen manufacturing methods like 3D printing. According to AJP, the state already has a “robust culture” for next-generation manufacturing, and with targeted policies the state could rapidly accelerate growth in that sector.

Another important energy efficiency angle noted in the report is the Industrial Internet of Things, which “optimizes production through frequent and instantaneous communication among a manufacturer’s production facilities, transportation system, and software networks.”

The Solar Industry Is Already Taking Off In Oregon

That’s all well and good, but CleanTechnica is interested in just what that could mean specifically for growing solar jobs in Oregon.

After all, the the solar resources in Oregon are rather different from New Mexico. According to SEIA state rankings, Oregon currently gets only 0.71% of its electricity from solar compared to 3.89% for New Mexico.

The good news is that the US Solar Energy Industries Association ranks Oregon up in the #10 spot for projected growth in capacity over the next five years.

Here’s more from SEIA:

  • State Homes Powered by Solar: 58,289
  • Solar Companies in State: 158 (32 Manufacturers, 79 Installers/Developers, 44 Others).
  • Total Solar Investment in State: $839.05 million.
  • Prices have fallen 55% in the last five years.
  • Growth Projection: 1,600 MW over the next 5 years (ranks 10th).

Next Generation Manufacturing and Solar Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

If you caught that thing about 32 manufacturers, that’s where the biggest boom in solar jobs for Oregon could occur.

Take a closer look at the comparison between Oregon and New Mexico, and you’ll see that the latter’s lead in solar installations is not matched by its manufacturing base.

SEIA counts only 104 solar companies in New Mexico, and only 15 of them are manufacturers.

CleanTechnica reached out to Kate Ringness, Director of The American Jobs Project, for some insights into the connection between next-gen manufacturing and solar jobs in the manufacturing sector.

With input from her team, Ms. Ringness graciously provided the answers by email (the following responses are in entirety and unedited except for paragraph breaks):

How does NGM apply to the solar industry? In consideration of the new solar tariff, how would NGM help accelerate solar development in the US?

NGM, particularly networked industrial process equipment, can help the solar manufacturing industry reduce costs just like with any other kind of manufacturer.

EG: By embedding a facility’s HVAC system with sensors and variable speed controls and linking up those sensors and controls with software, facilities can see energy savings of between 25 and 50%, on average.

On average, 30% of energy consumed by commercial and industrial sectors in the US is wasted. If solar manufacturing companies are anywhere close to that average, NGM could help those businesses reduce energy costs during the production process, enabling them to reduce prices and make their products more competitive, with or without the tariff.

Furthermore, NGM technology can help ensure production processes are more efficient, ensuring that facilities are producing goods as quickly as possible, increasing the solar manufacturer’s ability to meet domestic deployment demand.

The real impact of those energy savings isn’t just in helping accelerate deployment of renewable energy generation, it’s about cutting out a huge chunk of the energy consumed in industrial and manufacturing processes.

Reducing industrial energy consumption by 30 percent would be equivalent to a 60% increase in renewable energy capacity. NGM can help us get there.

Industrial electricity consumption is so large, that just a 15% reduction in industrial electricity consumption would be equivalent to an over 50% increase in wind and solar electricity generation.

So if we want to decarbonize the economy, we get huge bang for our buck reducing energy use in the industrial sector, and NGM is a proven way to do that.

Similarly, what is the potential for NGM in other clean tech sectors, including wind turbines and energy storage (especially EV batteries)?

All of the technologies you mention are complicated, have many steps to their manufacturing process and very long supply chains consuming a lot of energy, so NGM can certainly play a big role in helping cleantech manufacturers reduce costs.

It is important to consider how much NGM can help complement solar and other forms of renewable energy generation in taking carbon out of the economy.

Most experts agree that it is  critical to rethink how we use energy in manufacturing processes up and down industrial supply chains, across all sectors.

So much energy consumed in industrial and manufacturing processes is wasted that one of the best things we can do to decarbonize is use newly available tools in information technology, like the industrial Internet of Things, to get smarter about how our industrial processes work. This is both a huge opportunity and one that doesn’t get a lot of attention compared to installing more clean energy capacity, but is arguably just as important for moving towards an advanced energy economy.

How does NGM dovetail with the availability of wind and solar power? Can NGM provide for schedules that dovetail with peak wind and solar generation (in other words, could NGM help shave peak demand and reduce the need for additional energy storage)?

One of the main components of NGM is sensors and controls for monitoring, analyzing, and adjusting energy usage to realize cost savings. A lot of the technology underlying these NGM use cases has overlap with the technologies required to manage demand response and other smart grid programs.

We expect that as Oregon builds out its capacity to build hardware and software underlying NGM technology, that it will also be able to serve demand from utilities for smart grid-enabling technologies as well.

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Photo (screenshot): via American Jobs Project.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

Tina Casey has 3146 posts and counting. See all posts by Tina Casey