As solar photovoltaic technology sees greater efficiency and declining levelized costs, rivaling coal, demand for solar is rising and so are the jobs. Solar industry jobs are surging throughout the United States, according to the independent nonprofit research and educational organization the Solar Foundation (TSF). Record job growth in the industry over the last year is putting people to work in communities in every region, including some unexpected ones, depending on what one expects.
For example, in the Midwest, a place some folks might believe to be too cold and cloudy for solar, the industry has seen a doubling of solar jobs since TSF last reported its numbers. Heck, the solar panel I have on my garage in Michigan puts out more wattage than it’s rated for on a sunny winter day due to increased efficiency in colder weather. There’s enormous solar potential in the Midwest, rivaling Germany in the availability of good sun…yet Germany leads the world in solar investment.
Also, Georgia, Texas, North Carolina and Louisiana combined, which some folks may consider politically hostile to renewable energy, account for nearly a quarter of solar industry job creation nationwide. If it’s a good investment, and it is, practicality tends to speak louder than philosophy.
Better established markets like those in New England saw a jump of about 50 percent, while newer markets like the aforementioned Southern states and the Midwest have generally shown a 100 percent increase. And of course, as many would expect, California and Arizona — very sunny places — still lead the curve in terms of absolute solar jobs, with 47,223 in California and 8,558 in Arizona.
The Solar Foundation compiled its findings into an interactive map of solar jobs organized by state. So you can check out how many of your fellow statespeople are employed in the solar boom. Michigan boasts 2,700 men and women working in this green industry, helping the state diversify from its auto-dependent rut. Nearly 4,000 have solar jobs in Ohio; 1,500 in Indiana; and so on.
Installation is by far the largest source of the solar jobs, followed by manufacturing. Also included in the jobs figures are sales and distribution, project development, and of course policy and finance jobs.
This jobs report, however, comes out in the shadow of a growing trade dispute with China which could hamper future growth. China very recently slapped large tariffs on the nation’s importation of U.S. made polysilicon — the raw materials for solar cells. This jobs report should underscore how critical it is that the U.S. take an aggressive stance to nurture this growing industry, as it’s on the upswing. Real jobs and future innovation leadership are at stake.
Also posing a potential adversary of the growing solar industry, utilities may seek to curb the use of rooftop solar installations via policy. The falling price of solar and the rising popularity in rooftop installations has become a bit of an issue for public utilities who have recently identified it as a “mortal threat” to the previous utility business model. The distributed power production model posed by rooftop solar runs counter to the centralized power production the utilities’ business models tend to be based on.
Solar is becoming a large driver of jobs and could easily rise to become a dominant source of clean energy in the U.S. It’s already well on its way. U.S. political and business leaders would serve their communities well to keep the momentum going.
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