Solar now employs more people in the US than coal and natural gas

Of top 10 energy sectors, only the oil industry has more workers

Solar power, once derided as an expensive and unreliable energy source, has become a major generator of employment in the United States, according to new data supplied by The Solar Foundation.

In its most recent annual report, Solar Jobs Census 2016, the foundation found that one out of every 50 jobs in the U.S. last year, was created by the solar industry – or 2% of all new jobs. Solar jobs have increased at least 20% over the past four years and have nearly tripled since the first Solar Jobs Census was released in 2010.

In 2016, the five states with the most solar jobs were California, Massachusetts, Texas, Nevada, and Florida.

Of the 260,077 people employed in the solar industry in 2016, over half (52.7%) were involved in installation. Manufacturing represented 14.7% of solar employment, sales and distribution 12.4%, and project development 13.2% of the total. The most dramatic growth occurred in installation, which saw a 212% increase in the number of jobs between 2010 and 2016, according to the report. (see table and graph below)

solar table1

solar graph2

Perhaps the most interesting finding, from a mining perspective, is how the number of solar jobs compares to other forms of electricity generation. Despite representing just 1.3% of US energy production, "Solar employs slightly more workers than natural gas, over twice as many as coal, over three times that of wind energy, and almost five times the number employed in nuclear energy. Only oil/petroleum has more employment (by 38%) than solar," reads an executive summary. (see table below)

solar graph1

Other key findings:

  • The U.S. solar industry expects total employment in the solar industry to increase by 26,258 workers to 286,335 total jobs, an annual growth rate of 10% by the end of 2017. This growth projection is almost 10 times faster than the projected U.S. employment growth rate over the next 12 months.
  • Development in 2017 is expected to throttle back from the 2016 record year. The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and GTM Research expect new installations to decline slightly from the 14.1 GW of 2016 to 13.5 GW in 2017. While most of the capacity growth will still be from utility-scale project development, such deployment will grow at a slower rate.
  • Growth in annual installed capacity continues to be primarily driven by the falling installed costs of solar energy, especially materials or hard costs.
  • The clear majority of U.S. solar jobs are focused on solar photovoltaic (PV) electric generation. About 93% of solar workers are focused on solar PV electric generation; about 5% support heating and cooling technologies, such as solar thermal, and another 2% work on projects related to concentrating solar power (CSP).
  • More women and minorities are working in solar. Women represent a greater proportion of the solar workforce than in previous years, having risen steadily from 18.7% in 2013 to the 28% reported in 2016.

The full report can be freely downloaded here