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Solar energy jobs have experienced strong growth in the U.S. over the past year, despite global economic challenges, according to a new report from The Solar Foundation (TSF) covering employment trends across the sector.

Initial results from the 2012 census found that the solar sector now employs 119,016 Americans across all 50 states, having grown 13.2% over last year. In 2011, the solar energy industry employed 105,145 workers, while 93,502 were employed by solar companies in 2010. 

Census participants named strong federal solar policy, such as the solar investment tax credit, as one of the most important factors driving growth of solar jobs over the past 12 months, notes the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). Additionally, one-third of respondents cited the continued decline in solar energy prices as the primary driver of employment growth.

State-level pro-solar policies, including renewable portfolio standards, and the popularity of new third-party system ownership models were other factors creating jobs.

Per the report, solar job growth easily outpaced that of the overall U.S. economy, which expanded by 2.3% (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics) during the same period.

"Our census findings indicate that these new jobs are highly skilled in nature, including solar installation, sales, marketing and software development," says Andrea Luecke, executive director of TSF. "These new solar industry jobs are sustainable, cannot be outsourced and play a critical role in our country's economic recovery."

TSF and BW Research, with technical assistance from Cornell University, used an improved version of SEIA's National Solar Database and additional data sources to refine the methods used in the census and to reach more employers.

As a result, the previously reported solar employment figure for 2011 was revised upwards from 100,237 to 105,145, TSF and SEIA note. As in past years, the survey examined employment along the solar value chain, including installation, wholesale trade, manufacturing, utilities and all other fields, and includes growth rates and job numbers for 31 separate occupations.

The figures in the report were derived from data collected from more than 1,000 solar company survey respondents, yielding a low overall margin of error of +/-1.5%.

The full report is expected to be released Nov. 14 and will be available here.


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