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Solar employment soars as US economy lags

Employment figures for the US solar industry is soaring despite a lagging economy, according to the Solar Foundation's National Solar Job Census 2011: A Review of the US Solar Workforce.

By Kari Williamson

“The solar industry has grown into a major economic force with more than 100,000 employees in the United States,” says Andrea Luecke, Executive Director of The Solar Foundation.

“We expect even greater growth in the foreseeable future. But policy-makers, workforce training providers, and the industry must work together to continue creating good jobs for skilled workers.”

As of August 2011, the Census identified over 17,198 solar employment sites and 100,237 solar jobs in all 50 states.

The solar industry’s job growth rate of 6.8% is significantly higher than the 2% net job loss in fossil fuel power generation and the economy-wide expectation of 0.7% growth over the same period.

California continues as the national leader in solar employment, with 25,575 workers. Rounding out the top 10 states are Colorado, Arizona, Pennsylvania, New York, Florida, Texas, Oregon, New Jersey and Massachusetts. Colorado, Arizona, Florida, Oregon, New Jersey and Massachusetts showed the strongest growth rates from August 2010.

The Census also found that solar employers expect to increase the number of solar workers by 24%, representing nearly 24,000 net new jobs by August 2012. Over the next 12 months, nearly half of solar firms expect to add jobs.

“These survey responses merely reflect employers’ best estimates at expected new hiring, but it demonstrates a clear growth pattern for the industry and tremendous optimism by employers in the industry,” Luecke says.

“Employers expressed similar optimism last year, but failed to meet their hiring expectations because of stalled legislative initiatives and continued policy uncertainty.”

SEIA comments on solar jobs

Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) President Rhone Resch, says: “Our goal is to show the American public that solar is the fastest growing industry in US, creating jobs in all 50 states, and that we are an industry worth investing in. And to prove to pundits like Rush Limbaugh that it is a mistake to view our industry through the lens of just Solyndra.“

“We need to be clear that letting 1603 expire is the equivalent of raising taxes on one of the few industries that is adding jobs in this country.”

He adds: “No industry in the country is growing faster than solar. Our industry is made up of 5000 American companies … most of them small businesses. Over the last year alone, PV installations have grown by 69%. That’s 40 times faster than the rest of the economy.

“Our industry, even in the toughest economic times, is creating jobs seven times faster than the rest of America.”

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Photovoltaics (PV)  •  Policy, investment and markets  •  Solar electricity  •  Solar heating and cooling