Solar Energy Employment Towers Over US Economy

In a recent report from IREA, 2016 saw employment within the solar energy field spiking 17 times as fast as the economy of the United States. In total, more than a quarter billion people work for the solar industry, an increase of nearly 25 percent from 2015’s statistics. This boom in the solar industry can be attributed to reducing costs and recently-renewed federal tax credits that make it easy for homeowners and businesses to install panels. While growth in renewable energy has slightly slowed in Japan and Europe, IRA expects global employment in the renewable energies will reach 24 million by 2030.


Bryan Birsic, CEO of Wunder Capital, a company that finances the installation of solar panels, remarked that solar is one of the few remaining high-pay jobs for blue-collar workers that have no knowledge of computer coding. Birsic added that solar is labor-intensive due to the relative ease of acquiring sunlight; costs can be focused on paying workers to install, produce and sell panels. While most solar jobs are in installation, every facet of the industry is seeing various gains. While men hold most of solar’s jobs, women are growing in prevalence; 28% of the solar industry consists of women.


Growing awareness of climate change and its effects on the planet have also played a factor in this solar boom. Elon Musk has contributed by having his company, Tesla, offer solar roofs comprised of shingles; the solar shingles are intended to diminish the aesthetic complaints of normal panels while providing the same energy output to homes. The wind industry has also seen an employment rise of 28 percent, with nearly one-fourth of its 102,000 jobs occupied by manufacturers.


While the solar and wind industries have continued to improve and strengthen, especially as solar energy’s production cost has halved in the last five years, the coal industry is spiraling into trouble. Nearly half of all US coal jobs have vanished since 2011; Kentucky has lost more than 60 percent. In an effort to appease the people who voted him into power, the 45th president has signed orders to bust regulatory issues that affect the coal industry. Despite Trump’s efforts, the coal industry will likely continue to falter due to the availability of cheap natural gas.


The Solar Industry Experiences Huge Employment Growth

The solar industry has been growing in the United States at a steady pace. Many will point to the presence of solar panels on various homes as a sign of growth. To a degree, this is true. The more solar panels installed in homes, the more customers the solar industry is reaching. True growth, however, is measured by profits. A boost in solar panels on neighborhood homes might not necessarily indicate profits are booming. The news that the US solar industry has experienced a 25% growth level in employment definitely hints strong profits are flowing in.

The total number of the jobs added is in the range of 260,000. No industry adds that many jobs unless demand for products and services are huge. An industry has to remain solvent, which means hiring must be done prudently. Such job hiring stats show solar — for now — seems to be doing well.

Is solar in a bubble though?

Such a question is not asked out of a sense of cynicism. Any examination of a successful industry should come with concerns over whether or not growth has long-term potential or not. Many may be interested in solar energy because it is new. Will the interest remain in five years?

The answer depends on how successful the solar industry is in delivering on all promises. If those who invest in solar panels report they have saved money on energy expenses, more are likely to follow their lead. That means more customers end up with a positive attitude towards purchasing new solar panels.

Employment opportunities may continue to be strong as long as the industry is healthy. The auto industry is a perfect example of this. During the glory days of the 1950’s and 1960’s, the auto industry of Detroit became the source of fantastic jobs and income streams for those interested in working in car production. Things did change over time as no industry is expected to remain perfectly healthy and stable year after year.

For now, the health of the solar energy industry seems to be on good footing. Barring any major changes in the industry, this solid growth level should remain consistent for the near future.