California surpasses 75,000 solar jobs


On Wednesday The Solar Foundation released detailed state-level solar employment for 14 U.S. states, as a follow-up to its national Solar Jobs Census which was published in January. As the leading state California’s solar jobs grew 38% to 75,600 in 2015, representing 36% of all solar employment in the nation.

The bulk of solar jobs in both California and the United States are in installation, sales and other sectors related to deployment, not manufacturing. As such, California’s strong position is expected to continue with the passage of a net metering successor policy considered highly favorable by the solar industry.

Massachusetts remains the second-largest state for solar jobs, with employment growing over 50% to 15,000 jobs in 2015. With a population of less than seven million people, this makes the second-highest per-capita number of solar jobs.

These jobs are endangered by the Massachusetts legislature’s failure to lift net metering caps, which have already been reached in the service areas of several utilities. However, as installations under 25 kW with three-phase inverters are excluded from the caps, the market for small distributed installations will not be affected.

The state with the third-highest number of solar jobs tells a more tragic tale of unfortunate policy changes. Nevada increased solar jobs nearly 50% to 8,800 in 2015, but leading solar installers have already announced thousands of layoffs in the wake of changes to the state’s net metering policy which they say will destroy the economics of rooftop solar.

But while these three states lead in terms of jobs, Massachusetts and Nevada do not necessarily have the largest installed capacities or even solar markets. One likely factor is that utility-scale solar projects create far fewer jobs than distributed solar, so states where the market is dominated by large-scale installations, such as North Carolina and Texas, have fewer jobs than those where distributed solar plays a leading role.

This is not to say that these states are without solar employment, and both North Carolina and Texas are among the nine U.S. states that host more than 5,000 solar jobs.

Outside of these leading states, the census shows broad growth across the nation. The Solar Foundation says that since it began estimating state-level solar employment in 2012, nearly half the states in the nation have doubled (or more) their number of solar jobs.

And the states with the biggest changes in employment from 2014 to 2015 are in unlikely places: Rhode Island, South Carolina and Nebraska.