Whoa! Solar Provided 1 In 50 New U.S. Jobs Last Year


The U.S. solar workforce grew at a historic pace in 2016, a year when one out of every 50 new jobs in the country was in the solar industry, according to the newly released National Solar Jobs Census 2016 report.

As the latest annual report on U.S. solar employment issued by The Solar Foundation, the census finds that solar industry employment growth outpaced the overall U.S. economy by 17 times in 2016 – increasing by over 51,000 jobs for a total of 260,077 U.S. solar workers. The U.S. solar workforce grew by 25% compared to 2015, which represents the largest annual growth percentage since The Solar Foundation released its first census report in 2010.

“With a near tripling of solar jobs since 2010, the solar industry is an American success story that has created hundreds of thousands of well-paying jobs,” says Andrea Luecke, president and executive director of The Solar Foundation. “In 2016, we saw a dramatic increase in the solar workforce across the nation, thanks to a rapid decrease in the cost of solar panels and unprecedented consumer demand for solar installations. More than ever, it’s clear that solar energy is a low-cost, reliable, super-abundant American energy source that is driving economic growth, strengthening businesses, and making our cities smarter and more resilient.”

The number of solar jobs increased in 44 of the 50 states in 2016, which The Solar Foundation says shows that industry growth is truly a nationwide phenomenon. According to the report, the top five states with the highest total number of solar jobs in 2016 were California (100,050), Massachusetts (14,582), Texas (9,396 ), Nevada (8,371) and Florida (8,260).

“Solar is an important part of our ever-expanding clean energy economy in Massachusetts, supporting thousands of high-skilled careers across the commonwealth,” says Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker. “Through the continued development of solar incentive programs, Massachusetts is positioned to double the amount of solar for half the cost to ratepayers and maintain our position as one of the best states in the country for energy diversity.”

According to the report, solar employment growth in 2016 took place across all job sectors. Manufacturing employment increased 26% to 38,121 jobs nationwide; installation employment increased by 14% to 137,133 jobs; project development employment increased by 53% to 34,400 jobs; and sales and distribution jobs increased by 32% to 32,147 jobs.

Furthermore, the report notes 9% of solar workers nationwide are military veterans, compared to 7% in the overall U.S. workforce. The report also finds that the percentage of solar workers who are women increased from 24% in 2015 to 28% in 2016; the percentage of African-American solar workers increased from 5% to 7%, and the percentage of Latino/Hispanic solar workers increased from 11% to 17%.

“It’s really a wide range of people that get hired into this industry – everybody from certified and licensed engineers, to those who first learned about a solar project when we were building one in their area,” comments George Hershman, senior vice president and general manager at solar project builder Swinerton Renewable Energy. “A great aspect of this business is that it isn’t an exclusionary trade. It’s a teachable job that can create opportunity for people and give them a skill.”

Since 2010, The Solar Foundation’s census has defined solar workers as those who spend at least 50% of their time on solar-related work. The Solar Foundation says it has consistently found that approximately 90% of these workers spend 100% of their time on solar-related work. This year’s census was part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s U.S. Energy and Employment Report (USEER) data collection effort that included more than 500,000 telephone calls and over 60,000 emails to energy establishments in the U.S. between October and November 2016. ThisThe Solar Foundation’ resulted in a total of 3,888 full completions for establishments involved in solar activity in the U.S.

The complete 2016 report can be found at SolarJobsCensus.org.

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Larry Klone
Larry Klone

Because the federal tax credit was going to expire at the end of 2016, the solar industry prepared for a significant increase in sales. It didn’t happen. As a result, I wonder how many of those new jobs have disappeared.