With solar panels becoming an increasingly common sight on rooftops across the country, evidence of the booming U.S. solar industry isn’t hard to find. But many people may not appreciate just how many American workers are employed by the solar industry — or how fast these jobs have been growing relative to the rest of the economy.
Enter the latest installment of the annual National Solar Jobs Census, the definitive source of information about employment in the solar industry. Conducted by the Solar Foundation in collaboration with the Department of Energy’s U.S. Energy and Employment Report (USEER), the census has revealed major growth every year since it was first published in 2010. This year’s edition is no exception, and in some ways offers more reasons to celebrate than ever. Here are nine big ones:
- There are LOTS of solar jobs. There are 260,077 solar jobs nationwide — including over 230,000 positions that are 100% dedicated to solar, with the rest spending at least half of their time on solar projects. According to the USEER report, there are another 113,740 energy industry jobs that spend at least some time on solar-related work, for a total of nearly 374,000 jobs supported by the solar industry.
- Solar jobs are growing fast. Those 260,077 primarily-solar jobs represent a 25% increase over last year’s Solar Jobs Census, and a tripling of solar jobs since 2010. To get a sense of how fast solar industry employment is growing, it created one out of every 50 new jobs in the US in 2016, adding workers 17 times faster than the rest of the economy. And, according to the USEER report, solar and energy efficiency jobs accounted for over two-thirds of the new energy jobs created in 2016.
- Solar employs more workers than natural gas and coal. Based on the Department of Energy USEER data, solar overtook natural gas to become the second-largest energy sector employer in 2016, second to only the oil industry (for now). It also employs more than twice as many workers as the coal industry. Fortunately, the skill sets for the fossil fuel and solar industry have considerable overlap — in fact, there are now specific job training programs to help coal workers transition to the renewable energy industry.
- Solar is a nationwide employer. The solar industry employs workers in all 50 states, but that’s not the whole story. While you might have guessed that sunny California is the largest solar employer, would you have guessed that the top five solar job states are rounded out by Massachusetts, Texas, Nevada, and Florida? That’s a cross section of red and blue states from every region of the country — which, incidentally, is a big reason for solar’s bipartisan appeal.
- Solar jobs benefit your local economy and small businesses. Solar jobs span a very broad range of careers and industries, including manufacturing, R&D, sales, finance, construction, and project development. Notably however, over 137,000 of those jobs, just over half, are installation jobs — local jobs serving your community that are impossible to export. Moreover, most of these installers are small businesses, with half of all installers employing 10 or fewer people!
- Solar provides good, working-class jobs. Again, while there are all kinds of solar jobs, the industry offers major opportunities to build up America’s working class. 67% of solar jobs don’t require a bachelor’s degree, and instead target workers with skills and experience connected to building trades including construction workers, electricians, and plumbers. The median wage for solar installers is $26/hour, significantly higher than average manufacturing industry wages.
- Solar is a major employer of veterans. As detailed in the 2015 study Veterans in Solar: Securing America’s Energy Future, there is a high degree of skills transferability between the U.S. Armed Forces and the solar industry. And thanks in part to programs like the Department of Energy-sponsored Solar Ready Vets, there are now over 23,000 veterans in solar jobs, representing over 9% of solar workers — significantly more than the 7% of veterans in the overall U.S. workforce.
- The solar industry is increasingly diverse. The proportion of women in the solar workforce has grown from 18% in 2013 to 28% today, a significantly higher share than the construction and fossil fuels industries. Latinos, Asians, and African-Americans are becoming more represented as well, accounting for 17%, 9%, and 7% of all solar jobs respectively. While more progress can be made in each of these areas, the fact is that the solar industry is increasingly reflecting America’s diversity.
- Storage will boost the solar industry further. In looking to the future, the Solar Jobs Census identifies the burgeoning battery storage industry as a major new driver of growth and added value for the solar industry. A recent Solar Foundation discussion paper on “solar + storage jobs” estimates that these synergies will create an additional 27,000 new jobs over the next four years, including 9,000 positions dedicated solely to storage and 18,000 created by new solar installations that would not have occurred without storage.
As the leading provider of solar finance in the country, with over 150 installation company partners offering our solar loans in 35 states and counting, we’ve had the privilege of seeing this incredible growth every day. In fact, we see it in our own offices — in 2016, we had to move to a new space in downtown Oakland to accommodate our rapidly-expanding team of over 100 employees!
(Speaking of which, we’ve still got plenty of solar jobs of our own to fill, from sales to finance to technology development and beyond.)
Finally, we’ve talked in the past about the growing importance of solar loan financing — and now battery financing — as more and more homeowners choose to own instead of lease when they go solar. The Solar Jobs Census agrees, noting that “increasing the number and availability of solar financing options for home and business owners will help further drive solar adoption, leading to increased solar employment.” We couldn’t be more proud to be serving on the front lines of this clean energy revolution with all of our partners, and we’re excited to support this ongoing job creation success story.