Wednesday, April 24, 2013

America now has more solar energy workers than coal miners

By Michael Graham Richard

Still a nascent industry, but growing fastThe Solar Foundation, which has been releasing reports for a few years on the state of the solar industry in the U.S., has just launched a very cool interactive map that breaks the stats down state by state. This allows us to see that there are only 80 solar jobs in Alaska (not too surprising), and over 43,000 in California. Add all 50 states together, and solar employs 119,000 people in the country, a growth of 13.2% in 2012.
Another interesting way to gain perspective is to compare these solar jobs to the number of jobs created by other sectors. Looked at it this way, the Solar Foundation (using stats from the Bureau of Labor Statistics) found that there were more solar energy workers in Texas than ranchers, that solar workers outnumber actors in California, and that across the whole 50 states, there are more solar workers than coal miners.
Solar foundation/Screen capture
The top 3 states for solar jobs are California, followed by Arizona, and New Jersey.

© Solar foundation

© Solar Foundation
The interactive map allows you to drill into each state by clicking "more". One interesting stat is the number of solar companies HQ'ed in each state. For example, California has over 1,700! They also give all kinds of useful into on solar practices in the state, such as net metering and renewable energy portfolio targets (if any).

CC BY-ND 2.0
Another interesting stat on Arizona:
Arizona saw a huge spike in solar employment (from 4,786 in 2011 to 9,800 this year), mostly due to the completion of a number of large utility-scale solar projects. Though California installed more solar than Arizona overall last year, Arizona had far more utility installations, which often rely on industrial and residential construction workers. Without the installation of such a large amount of utility-scale solar, these workers might otherwise be struggling to find employment in a depressed construction market.
Most jobs in solar energy in the U.S. are in installation. It doesn't pay like being a hedge fund manager, but at around $38k/year (around $18/hour), it's above the median national wage of $34,750, and as the industry grows further (it's just getting started), there's the real possibility that shortages of qualified workers will make salaries go up, as they did historically in other fast-growing industries.