U.S. solar industry surpasses 200,000 jobs

The Solar Foundation has released the latest edition of its Solar Jobs Census for the United States, which finds ongoing strong growth in U.S. solar employment. In the twelve months preceding November 2015 the U.S. solar industry added 35,000 jobs, representing 12 times more growth than the overall U.S. economy, where employment grew 1.7%.

Over larger timeframes, the growth is even more dramatic. U.S. solar employment has more than doubled since 2010, and the solar industry now employs three times as many workers as coal mining.

Of the 209,000 workers employed in the solar industry, installers represent 120,000. Installers have long been the largest segment of the U.S. solar workforce, and since 2014 have been a majority of all workers. Installation workers earn a median wage of $21 per hour, well above the U.S. average.

By contrast there were only 34,000 manufacturing jobs reported. The United States imports the majority of its PV modules from China and Southeast Asia, even after tariffs on Chinese and Taiwanese solar products.

California is home to 76,000 solar jobs, or more than 1/3 of the total. And while more detailed data by state, county and legislative district will be released in February, deep in the report is some revealing data about the different labor intensity of residential versus utility-scale PV.

While utility-scale solar is still the largest market segment by MW installed, only 22% of U.S. solar jobs are in utility-scale solar, whereas 63% of workers are in the residential segment, which installs less capacity. The commercial and industrial segment makes up the remaining 15%.

The report indicates that another 30,000 solar jobs will be added over the next 12 months. However, Solar Foundation notes that this is based on survey responses from before an extension of the U.S. Investment Tax Credit was approved by the U.S. Congress in December. As this will have a strong impact on the solar market in 2017 and future years, the actual number will likely be higher.