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Nithin Coca headshot

Its Official: Solar Employs More People Than Oil and Gas


What environmental and labor advocates have been claiming for some time now has come true: Solar energy is a bigger source of jobs than fossil fuels – and it's only going to get better from here on.

That is according to a new report from the Solar Foundation, which found that by the end of 2015, there were 209,000 workers in the solar industry -- more than those employed in oil and gas extraction.

“The solar industry has once again proven to be a powerful engine of economic growth and job creation,” said Andrea Luecke, president and executive director of the Solar Foundation, in a statement. “Employment in solar has grown an extraordinary 123 percent since 2010, adding approximately 115,000 well-paying jobs.”

Much of the growth has come from the installation side: the people putting those beautiful panels on residential rooftops, parking structures and commercial buildings across the country. I'm sure you've seen them in your neighborhood, too (unless you live in a state where oil and gas lobbies have restricted solar expansion, like Nevada). Sales jobs are also growing.

On the other side, oil and gas jobs are disappearing. Part of this is due to the wave of bankruptcies in coal -- most recently Arch Coal, once one of the biggest energy companies in America. This is due to massive drops in coal prices and the reduction of coal usage, as more and more states shift to cleaner energy. President Barack Obama's recent move to halt new coal mining on federal lands is only another step in the slow death of coal.

Oil is seeing a similar wave, as major oil companies cut their exploration and development budgets due to incredibly low oil prices. Last week, they fell below $30 a barrel, a level at which drilling in much of the United States is just not economically feasible.

The amazing thing, and something no one could have predicted just a few years ago, is that solar is thriving despite the fact that oil and coal prices are so low. Many thought that high fossil fuel prices were necessary for renewables to be able to compete. It turns out they were wrong, which is great news for climate.

“Solar is providing a tremendous boost to our economy while meeting public demand for clean, affordable energy,” said Andrew Birch, CEO of Sungevity, in a statement.

Both the Solar Foundation and the U.S. Department of Labor expect solar job growth to remain strong in the coming year, as more and more panels go online. States that promote clean energy will win, while states that continue to ride the dying horse of fossil fuels will be left behind.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Nithin Coca headshotNithin Coca

Nithin Coca is a freelance journalist who focuses on environmental, social, and economic issues around the world, with specific expertise in Southeast Asia.

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