Solar industry growing, with some setbacks

Back to All News

Solar industry growing, with some setbacks

January 13, 2016

While American workers flocking into the solar-energy industry are helping make it one of the fastest-growing sectors of our nation’s economy, there are signs the “solar coaster” ride is far from over.

Nationally, solar companies are adding workers nearly 12 times faster than the overall economy, and accounted for more than 1% of all jobs created in 2015, says a new report by the Solar Foundation, a pro-solar industry group. More than 208,000 Americans now work in the solar industry, a 20% increase in a single year, and up 123% since 2010, the report said.

"The U.S. solar power industry continues to grow and create jobs, providing further evidence that promoting economic growth and fighting climate change can go hand-in-hand,” former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is also United Nations Secretary General’s Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change, said in a statement announcing the study.

More workers have produced a lot more solar energy. In 2014, the United States installed as much solar power capacity every three weeks as it did in all of 2008. Utility customers and regulators are increasingly demanding that electricity come from clean sources like solar and wind.

The industry's dependence on tax credits and incentives poses a risk, however: A decision by Nevada regulators to reduce the credits paid to homeowners who install solar panels this month prompted two major companies, SolarCity and Sunrun, to announce they’re laying off an estimated 750 workers.

Coal is still king, just not when it comes to jobs. In December, the mining industry, including coal mining, lost about 8,000 jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, with about 129,000 jobs lost over 2015. The BLS doesn’t track solar jobs, instead deferring to the Solar Foundation for statistics.

Coal, natural gas and nuclear remain the backbone of the nation’s energy sector, providing the bulk of our “always-on” power. Solar power made with photovoltaic cells remains a small portion of the country’s energy portfolio, accounting for about 1% percent of total generation.

Solar installations come in many forms, from the small panels installed above streetlights in New Jersey to the backyard panels serving homes in Vermont or the cooperative solar "farms" built in the desert canyons of Colorado. Solar advocates say tax incentives and government mandates have been highly successful in prompting solar development.

California, for instance, has set a goal of getting 33% of its electricity from renewables by 2020 and is also on track with a separate effort to install nearly 2,000 megawatts worth of solar panels on rooftops by the end of this year. President Barack Obama has been a major driver of solar-energy jobs, and last year announced plans to train 75,000 people, many of them veterans, to work in the solar sector.

The boom-and-bust cycle of tax incentives, dating to the Carter and Reagan presidencies, has led to long-term inconsistency in the industry, said Frank Marshall, the director of policy for Asheville, N.C.-based FLS Energy, which builds large solar farms.


Related Information