TODAY’S STUDY: The Jobs In Solar
National Solar Jobs Census 2018
February 2019 (The Solar Foundation)
The Solar Foundation’s National Solar Jobs Census 2018 is the ninth annual report on employment and workforce trends in the U.S. solar industry, nationwide and state by state. Based on a rigorous survey of U.S. companies, this report represents the most comprehensive analysis of solar labor market trends in the United States.
This year’s National Solar Jobs Census found that solar employment experienced its second decline since The Solar Foundation first began tracking jobs in 2010. As of November 2018, the solar industry employs over 242,000 solar workers, representing a decline of 3.2%, or 8,000 fewer jobs, since 2017. Since 2010, solar employment has grown 159%, from just over 93,000 to more than 242,000 jobs in all 50 states.
Key factors behind the decline in solar jobs from 2017 to 2018 include:
‹ Uncertainty over the outcome of the Section 201 trade case before the new solar tariffs were announced in January 2018. This uncertainty led to project delays, especially for the larger, utility-scale installations.
‹ State policy and economic challenges led to job declines in some states with well-established solar markets.
Solar Job Trends In 2018
This report includes up-to-date information on solar jobs state by state, by industry sector, and within demographic groups, as well as employer predictions on future job growth. Other major findings on the U.S. solar workforce, as of November 2018, are as follows:
‹ Despite losses in states with well-established solar markets, 29 states saw solar job growth in 2018, including many states with emerging solar markets. States that experienced significant gains in employment included Florida (+1,769 jobs), Illinois (+1,308), Texas (+739), New York (+718), Ohio (+644), and Washington (+612).
‹ The states that experienced the largest job reductions between 2017 and 2018 included California (-9,576 jobs), Massachusetts (-1,320), North Carolina (-903), Arizona (-857), Maryland (-808), New Jersey (-696), Georgia (-614), and Hawaii (-595). California, home to about 40% of U.S. solar capacity, still has by far the most jobs nationwide. In 2018, Florida overtook Massachusetts as the state ranking second to California in total solar jobs.
‹ In 2018, the Solar Jobs Census for the first time included jobs data for Puerto Rico, which has approximately 2,000 solar workers. These jobs are not included in the total job count for the 2018 Census for the purposes of comparison to previous years.
‹ For the first time, this year’s Census also tallied jobs in solar + storage. Within firms that focus primarily on battery storage, there were 3,900 jobs directly linked to solar in 2018.*
‹ Long-term solar jobs growth remains positive. In the five-year period between 2013 and 2018, solar employment increased 70% overall, adding 100,000 jobs. By comparison, overall U.S. employment grew only 9.13% during that same period.
‹ Solar represents about 2.4% of overall U.S. electricity generation, yet it employs twice as many workers as the coal industry and almost five times as many workers as the nuclear industry.1 In the energy sector, only the oil/ petroleum and natural gas industries have more employment than solar.† Solar employs more workers per unit of generation due to the industry’s high growth rate, creating thousands of jobs associated with construction.
‹ Demand-side sectors (comprised of the installation and project development sector, and the wholesale trade and distribution sector) make up 76% of overall solar industry employment (184,400 jobs), while manufacturing represents 14% (33,700 jobs) and operations and maintenance comprises just under 5% (11,000 jobs). The “other” sector, which includes engineering, legal, and financing firms, represents just over 5% (13,000 jobs).
‹ About 155,000 solar jobs, or two-thirds of the total, are in the installation and project development sector. Of these, about 87,000 jobs (56%) are focused on the residential market segment. Just under 30%, or 46,000 jobs, focus on non-residential (including about 12,500 jobs in community solar). The utility-scale market comprises the remaining 22,000 jobs in this sector (14%).
‹ Respondents to the Census survey predicted that total U.S. solar industry employment would reach about 259,400 jobs by the end of 2019, a 7% increase year-over-year.
The U.S. Solar Workforce
In addition to this overall employment data, the National Solar Jobs Census includes detailed information on other aspects of the solar workforce and industry trends, including; sector and segment analyses; demographics and diversity; hiring challenges; industry wages; and educational requirements. It also includes in-depth case studies of select solar companies to provide further insight into the U.S. solar workforce.
The solar industry is more diverse than comparable industries, but still not representative of the greater U.S. population. In 2018, women represented 26.3% of the solar workforce, Latino or Hispanic workers represented 16.9%, Asian workers comprised 8.5%, and black or African American workers comprised 7.6%. The percentage of solar workers who are veterans declined from 8.6% in 2017 to 7.8% in 2018.
Twenty-six percent of solar establishments reported that it was “very difficult” to find qualified candidates to fill open positions, an increase of 44% from the 18% reporting such challenges in 2017. This increase is not surprising given the tight labor market.
Experience remains the most important hiring requirement for all sectors, with solar establishments requiring experience for 60% of their new hires. That number increased from 55% of new hires in 2017. The proportion of Bachelor’s degrees required, 21%, was similar to that of 2017.
Solar industry wages remain competitive with similar industries and above the national median wage ($18.12) for all occupations.2 The median reported wage for non-electrician photovoltaic (PV) installers is $18.92 for entry-level workers and $28.11 for mid-level workers. The median reported wage for electrician PV installers is $24.32 for entry-level workers and $32.43 for mid-level workers.
Toward A Bright Solar Future
Despite two years of decline in solar employment, solar installations are expected to ramp up over the coming years and new job opportunities will likely follow. The rapidly declining cost of hardware is making solar cost-competitive with fossil fuels. Policy support from many state governments will also aid the solar industry’s growth.
While these are reasons for optimism, the urgent challenge of climate change means the progress we have seen to date is not nearly enough. Solar energy will need to develop and expand even faster in order to reduce carbon emissions to sustainable levels. If this can be achieved, a host of additional benefits will follow, including new solar job growth.