The US solar energy industry employs 119,016 Americans and grew 13.2% in 2011-2012, making it one of the fastest growing industries in the country, according to a new web-based mapping tool.

The map developed by The Solar Foundation (TSF), an independent non-profit solar research and education organisation, also revealed that California has more than four times the number of solar employees than any other state in the US.

“These jobs figures demonstrate that the US solar industry remains a powerful source of local job creation. In comparing our estimates with data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we find that California now has more solar workers than actors and that there are more solar jobs in Texas than there are ranchers,” said Andrea Luecke, TSF Executive Director.

“Economies of scale are also making our industry more labour efficient, requiring only one-third the number of workers to install a megawatt of solar today as it did in 2010.”

The interactive map also presents information on the relative size of solar industry subsectors in each state and allows users to explore how their state measures up to others in terms of key solar policies, jobs per capita, and number of homes powered by solar energy.

The data from TSF’s National Solar Jobs Census 2012 was combined with the Solar Energy Industries Association’s National Solar Database to produce these results.

The top ten states for solar jobs in 2012 were: California, Arizona, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Colorado, New York, Texas, Michigan, and Ohio. These states all have a collection of policy tools designed to support renewable energy in general and solar in particular. Many of the highest-ranked solar jobs states are also those with the greatest cumulative installed capacity in the nation.

Rhone Resch, President and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association notes the importance of these policies for the growth of the solar industry in the US: “Strong state solar policies, including renewable portfolio standards, third-party financing availability, and net metering have driven this tremendous state growth.

“Ensuring policy certainty throughout the US will help to accelerate this trend and lead to more job creation where it’s most needed,” concluded Resch.

However, these solar policies have contributed to tensions between the US, and China and India, who have separately lodged complaints with the World Trade Organization. China said Washington, Massachusetts, Ohio and New Jersey had mechanisms which discriminate against foreign companies, while India cited Michigan's renewable energy legislation, Los Angeles' solar incentive programme and residential solar power offered by Austin Energy in Texas.

According to TSF’s Census, 31% of employers indicated that component price declines were the greatest driver of company growth.

Furthermore, the latest US Solar Market Insight Report published by GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association, shows that the top four solar jobs states (California, Arizona, New Jersey, and Massachusetts) all saw significant decreases in residential installed costs in 2012, with New Jersey and Massachusetts experiencing substantial declines in non-residential prices as well.