Report: New Mexico Has Major Jobs Potential For Advanced Solar Tech

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With targeted investments and forward-looking policies, New Mexico could leverage its strengths in advanced solar technologies to drive economic growth and support over 6,800 jobs annually, according to a new report, “The New Mexico Jobs Project: A Guide to Creating Jobs in Advanced Solar Technology,” released by the American Jobs Project in partnership with the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at The University of New Mexico (UNM).

Kate Ringness, director of the American Jobs Project and co-author of the report, explains that advanced solar technologies are “products that go beyond run-of-the-mill solar panels.”

“For example, flexible perovskite solar cells can be used in glazing to enable colorful, electricity-producing glass buildings,” she says. “Micro-scale solar cells, or ‘solar glitter,’ can be embedded into flexible, lightweight materials such as fabrics and used for applications from aerospace to emergency response. Thin-film solar shingles can replace traditional roofing, offering building owners easier solar installation options.”

She adds, “This report offers a practical roadmap for expanding advanced solar manufacturing in New Mexico to create good-paying manufacturing jobs in a sector that’s growing worldwide.”

So, why are these new jobs needed? Since the onset of the last recession, New Mexico has lost one-quarter of its manufacturing jobs. At 3.2%, the state ranks 49th in manufacturing as a share of total employment, the report says. In turn, New Mexico faces a growing need for good-paying jobs to address unemployment and a large population of underemployed and low-wage workers.

“Fluctuating oil and gas revenues and resulting uncertainty in public finances, an overreliance on government jobs, and limited success in capitalizing on local talent to develop a vibrant technology sector have contributed to a slow post-recession recovery,” says Jeff Mitchell, director of UNM’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research. “New Mexico has a unique opportunity to expand its small manufacturing sector and diversify its economy through advanced solar – putting thousands of people to work and stimulating local economies.”

Based on extensive research and stakeholder outreach, the report offers the following statistics:

  • The North American advanced solar industry is projected to grow 16.8% annually through 2030. China has cornered the global market for conventional solar cells, but New Mexico could become a leading innovator and manufacturer of advanced solar technologies, including hyper-efficient, inexpensive, multifunctional and easy-to-integrate products. For example, next-generation solar cells can be embedded in building facades, window film or roof tiles for on-site electricity generation, and concentrating solar power with thermal energy storage can quickly supply demand across a utility network.
  • New Mexico is well-positioned to tap into this market growth given the state’s groundbreaking research across universities and national labs, generous state support for manufacturers, growing industry value chain, and immense solar resources. The state has 15 advanced solar manufacturers, including Array Technologies, SolAero Technologies and Unirac, as well as several solar installers and service companies. Existing incubators and accelerators, funding sources, and technical training programs could also be leveraged to strengthen the advanced solar industry.
  • In addition to tapping into broader markets, advanced solar technologies could greatly benefit New Mexico’s energy economy. Projects such as solar panels on streetlights, solar shingles on school buildings and solar-powered networks for rural broadband could help deliver cost-savings and basic services to communities across the state. Increasing New Mexico’s renewable energy supply could also strengthen utility portfolios and attract new businesses, such as Facebook’s Los Lunas Data Center.
  • New Mexico is already home to over 2,500 solar jobs. Through strategic growth of the advanced solar industry, the state could support an average of 6,800 jobs each year through 2030, greatly expanding the existing solar workforce. This figure includes direct jobs from manufacturing and software development, indirect jobs from suppliers, and induced jobs from spending in the local economy.

The report also provides state-specific strategies designed to take advantage of this economic opportunity. Recommendations include as follows:

  • Building a comprehensive cluster development strategy that encourages knowledge sharing, asset growth and high-impact marketing.
  • Establishing an advanced solar center of excellence to catalyze innovation and support entrepreneurship.
  • Creating a technology maturation loan fund to increase the number of innovations that reach commercial development in the state.
  • Appointing a foundation liaison to leverage philanthropic support for essential programs.
  • Increasing opportunities to develop job readiness and industry-related skills to improve youth engagement in education and employment.

“With demand for advanced solar solutions increasing around the world, thousands of jobs are up for grabs for those who choose to lead,” says Athena Christodoulou, president of the New Mexico Solar Energy Association. “The New Mexico Jobs Project demonstrates how our state can seize this opportunity and offers a pathway for industry growth and collaboration across industry, government and university partners.”

The full report can be downloaded here.

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