The Solar Foundation releases new state-specific numbers showing major solar job gains in both traditional and emerging U.S. markets. This is the organization’s first-ever district-level “deep dive” into solar employment in California, Arizona, and Minnesota, plus updated estimates of solar employment in each of the 50 states and DC.
Good news for solar jobs! The solar industry experienced record-breaking job growth across the U.S. last year, according to The Solar Foundation (TSF), an independent research and education nonprofit. Today, TSF released new state-specific numbers that show major solar job gains in both traditional and emerging markets. This is the organization’s first-ever district-level “deep dive” into solar employment in California, Arizona, and Minnesota, plus updated estimates of solar employment in each of the 50 states and DC.
Source: The Solar Foundation
“Our state solar jobs research this year clearly shows that solar energy can be harnessed anywhere, and that growth rates are not necessarily associated with geography, total amount of sunshine, or political party,” said Andrea Luecke, Executive Director and President of TSF.
In an interview today, Lueke said, “Costs are coming down, consumer awareness is going up, and in states where there are smart policies designed to accelerate both of those you’re going to see a greater uptick of installations which lead to jobs.” She noted that net metering debates in Arizona and Colorado stalled solar job growth in those states last year.
Echoing the sentiment that policy is more important than sunshine when it comes to solar power, Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), said in a statement, “By any measurement, these state-by-state jobs numbers represent a huge return on America’s investment in solar energy. Smart, effective and forward-looking public policies – such as the solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) and Net Energy Metering (NEM) – are driving solar deployment in all 50 states. Today, solar is generating enough clean, reliable and affordable electricity to power more than 2 million American homes – with double digit annual growth expected for the foreseeable future.”
So how did the states fare? Not surprisingly, California and Arizona continued to lead the way as the top two states for solar employment, with 47,223 and 8,558 jobs, respectively. The New England region, though it’s not the sunniest, now has nearly 20% of the U.S. solar workforce, at over 25,000 solar jobs. Southern states employ over 22,000 solar workers, and 18 southern, midwestern and mountain states doubled their solar jobs since TSF’s last solar employment report. Statistics on all 50 states can be found on the State Solar Jobs map.
The better-established solar markets of Massachusetts and New York both grew by nearly 50%. North Carolina and Georgia, which have been in the news recently for solar developments there, doubled their solar jobs. New solar job creation in North Carolina, Georgia, Texas, and Louisiana combined to account for nearly one-quarter of the total 23,682 industry-wide jobs added last year. Strong policy in Georgia has led to a rapid increase in installation jobs there, showing the importance of policy for growing a solar market. In contrast, increasing market maturity led to gains in New York for jobs related to legal and financial services.
State solar employment figures were generated using thousands of data points from a combination of high-quality sources, including TSF’s National Solar Jobs Census 2013 and the Solar Energy Industries Association’s National Solar Database. While the margin of error for some of the states with fewer solar jobs remains wide, these numbers are believed to be the most credible and up-to-date state-level solar jobs numbers in existence. The National Solar Jobs Census 2013 was conducted by TSF and BW Research Partnership with support from The George Washington University’s Solar Institute. Both that report and separate district-level Census reports for California, Arizona, and Minnesota, which use the same rigorous methodology as the National Solar Jobs Census, are available at www.tsfcensus.org.
California remains a leader in solar jobs
For the California report, nearly 4,000 California employers participated in the survey, resulting in 674 full survey completions and a margin of error of +/-3.46%. That’s more rigorous than the industry standard for similar studies.
The report found that California has nearly five times more solar jobs than any other state, and solar employment there grew by 8% in 2013. There were 47,223 solar workers in California in 2013, an addition of more than 3,500 workers over the previous year.
“California continues to lead the nation in solar jobs,” said Luecke. “The California Census indicates that the future remains bright for in-state job creation, as the industry expects to grow another 20 percent and add nearly 9,000 new jobs over the next 12 months. With that level of optimism, it is clear solar power will continue to play an increasingly important role in California’s economy.”
The state now employs nearly one-third of the entire U.S. solar industry, with over half of California’s solar workers employed in the installation sector. These jobs are better paid than in other states, with the average installer wage reported at $24.26 an hour, $0.63 per hour more than the national average among solar firms in this sector. Interestingly, manufacturing is one of the strongest solar employment sectors in the state.
Policies in California have been key to supporting solar jobs in the state. Those include the Renewables Portfolio Standard, which requires utilities to get 33% of energy from renewable sources by 2020, as well as rebates and incentives.
“We’re very pleased that California is, once again, the leader in solar job creation. Owing to the positive policy environment in California, our state has a flourishing solar market with great job growth,” said Nancy Skinner, California State Assemblymember. “Strong ongoing support by California legislators and regulators will enable the solar industry to continue to be an economic powerhouse.”
“California has long been a global epicenter for innovation, and we’re seeing that with the tremendous growth of the state’s solar industry,” said Emily Kirsch, Co-founder and CEO of SfunCube, an Oakland-based solar incubator and accelerator. “In just over a year, SfunCube has grown from two startup companies employing 10 people, to a dozen early stage startups employing nearly 50.”
According to the report, the greater San Francisco Bay area leads regional employment numbers, with 21,653 solar workers in the area. Southern California, including Los Angeles and San Diego, now employs over 10,000 solar workers, with an additional 4,285 employed in the Inland Empire.
Arizona remains strong despite some solar job losses
The Arizona district-level jobs report found that even with a loss of over 1,200 solar workers in the past year, a 13% decline in employment, Arizona remains the second-largest hub for solar careers, with 8,558 solar jobs. Despite being only 16th in population, Arizona accounts for 6% of total U.S. solar employment. Solar jobs in Arizona are expected to grow by 5.6% in the next year.
“While Arizona was one of the few states that lost jobs, it remains an industry leader in terms of installed capacity, solar employment and potential for growth given its tremendous solar resource,” said Luecke. “The Arizona Census indicates that employers are cautiously optimistic about growth prospects for 2014, expecting to add 500 new jobs. While this anticipated growth is lower than the solar industry job growth we expect nationally in 2014 (15.6%), it underscores the important role the solar industry plays in Arizona’s local economy.”
“Small-business entrepreneurship requires some risk-taking, and those risks don’t always immediately pay off,” said Governor Jan Brewer. “Still, thanks to our pro-business policies, highly-trained workforce and abundant sunshine, Arizona remains a national and global leader in the solar industry. As Governor, I will continue to create and foster the competitive economic environment that will secure our title as the nation’s ‘Solar Capital.'”
The report also discovered that local veterans have played a big role in Arizona’s solar industry: over 16% of Arizona solar workers have served in the U.S. armed forces, nearly twice the veteran employment percentage found in other Arizona industries.
“The information presented in the Arizona Solar Jobs Census is the result of survey responses from over 1,300 employers across the state,” said Philip Jordan, Vice President of BW Research Partnership. “This level of sampling provides a high level of confidence in the data and allows for a deeper examination of trends within legislative districts in Arizona.”