There's thrilling news out today about job growth in the U.S. solar industry: Last year, the industry added more than 31,000 jobs, and solar jobs grew at rate of 21.8 percent, according to the new National Solar Jobs Census 2014, published today by the Solar Foundation and George Washington University's GW Solar Institute. Compare that figure to 1.3 percent job growth for the economy overall, and you understand just how mind-blowing solar job gains are, with the solar industry hiring at a rate of almost 20 times that of the economy as a whole. This growth topped by almost 50 percent the combined job gains in the oil and gas pipeline construction sector [10,529 new jobs] and the oil and gas drilling industry [8,688 new jobs]. So here's some good news to trumpet around: In America last year, one out of every 78 new jobs was a solar job. The industry now employs a walloping 173,807 of our relatives, neighbors and friends.
Photo Credit: Lexey Swall
This huge growth comes thanks, in large part, to federal, state, local and utility policies and incentives that advance clean energy technologies. We're talking here about the federal Investment Tax Credit for solar, state renewable energy standards, state net metering and interconnection rules, pro-solar local permitting practices, along with utility incentives and other policies. Together, they've spurred demand, sped economies of scale, and driven both investment in technology and competition in the marketplace. Its critical we support their continued use--Congress' two-week extension of the Production Tax Credit for wind power in December was almost a joke--and support and strengthen the EPA's Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon pollution from existing power plants, if we want more jobs in the solar power industry for Americans who need and want them.
But let's turn back to the good news from the National Solar Jobs Census. What it has to say about solar's potential is pretty riveting. To begin with:
- Solar jobs are good jobs. Installers, the large majority of whom have only a high-school education, average $20-24 an hour. Manufacturing workers make almost $18. System designers earn between $30 and $40, and sales people earn $44 an hour, on average. Those figures are competitive with similar industries and can provide a middle-class standard of living.
- Installers make up the greatest number of jobs in the industry: The companies they work for account for 55 percent of all solar jobs. Again, installers usually have only a high-school diploma. So solar's continued growth can mean more jobs and more options for people who often have the fewest choices in the job market.
- Solar continues to be a bright spot in U.S. manufacturing: While the U.S. manufacturing sector has grown by only 3.2 percent since September 2010, and, sadly, lost 1.6 percent of its jobs total in 2014, solar manufacturing continues to bloom. Solar manufacturers now employ more than 32,000, up almost 9 percent over last year and 30 percent since 2010.
- The solar workforce is increasingly diverse: Last year, women made up 21.6 percent of the solar workforce and veterans close to 10 percent, both up from previous totals. The solar industry now also employs more Latinos, Asian/Pacific Islanders and African Americans.
Photo Credit: Lexey Swall
The blistering pace of the industry's growth is exciting to see. How many other sectors do you know that can achieve so many national goals at once? Solar creates good jobs for Americans at all levels of experience and education, while it reduces the risk of global warming, improves the quality of the air our kids breathe, saves us money on energy, and, as a new report out yesterday shows, provides profitable investment for homeowners, among its other benefits. That's beyond impressive.
Today's National Solar Jobs Census 2014 shows once again that as we support solar, solar supports us.