The number of people employed by the US solar industry grew more than 20 times faster than the national average employment growth rate in a year, according to an annual report produced by the Solar Foundation.
The foundation’s National Solar Jobs Census also said that in the surveyed period – between November 2013 and November 2014 – the US solar industry added 21.8% more jobs. The report’s findings were announced on Thursday.
Over that period, the industry added 31,000 new workers meaning that as of two months ago, 173,807 Americans were employed in solar. In other words, while the national average remained at an almost flat 1.1% growth in the year, it was outpaced by upward trends in solar employment by 20.7%.
Philip Jordan, vice president at BW Research Partnership, which partnered with the Solar Foundation on putting together the census, now in its fifth year, said “continued high wages among solar installers” were of particular interest, with the report overall showing “aggressive hiring and clear optimism among US solar companies”.
Perhaps tellingly, there are now more frontline installer jobs in the US than there are its equivalents in the coal mining industry, which employs 93,185 people. Oil and gas pipeline construction is also far outstripped, with just over 10,500 jobs, while crude petroleum and natural gas extraction hire just 8,688 workers.
Not only has solar raced into the lead but this lead may well be extended in future – the employers surveyed expect to hire 36,000 more people in the next year, the report says.
Adding to a flood of seemingly positive findings, Jordan said solar companies are increasingly becoming more diverse workplaces than their counterparts in the fossil fuel and construction industries.
“…We found that the installation sector is generally more diverse than other energy sectors, hiring African-Americans and Latinos at a faster rate than the oil, gas, coal and construction sectors.”
BW Research Partnership and Solar Foundation, with assistance from George Washington University, surveyed 7,600 companies. Solar Foundation president and executive director Andrea Luecke hailed the industry’s recent success in hiring “highly-skilled, well-paid professionals”. Luecke said the report proved solar’s position as “a powerful engine of economic growth and job creation”.
“The solar industry has once again proven to be a powerful engine of economic growth and job creation. The solar sector has grown an extraordinary 86% in the last four years, adding approximately 81,000 jobs,” Luecke said.
“Our census findings show that one out of every 78 new jobs created in the US over the past 12 months was created by the solar industry – nearly 1.3% of all jobs. It also shows for the fifth consecutive year, the solar industry is attracting highly-skilled, well-paid professionals. That growth is putting people back to work and strengthening our nation’s economy.”
Public figures and industry names lined up to applaud the report’s conclusions. Among them was SolarCity’s chief executive officer Lyndon Rive who referred to his company’s 4,000 new hires in 2014, while IKEA’s chief financial officer Rob Olson said he was thrilled that the furniture company’s investment in solar “helps contribute to a growing clean tech economy – and accelerate[s] the creation of new solar jobs throughout the country”.
Former mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg also commented on the news and hailed it as a triumph for the emerging green economy.
“The tremendous growth in the solar industry last year, including job growth that is outpacing the national average, is further evidence that we can clean our air and cut climate pollution while also growing the economy,” he said.
“The more data we have about the renewable energy industry, the better positioned policymakers and investors will be to make informed decisions. The Solar Jobs Census has the potential to help make that possible.”
The foundation is expected to launch a more detailed state-by-state census in mid-February. Incidentally an Advanced Energy Economy (AEE) Institute report on California issued in December found that the western state alone employed 73,000 workers in solar.