It was a big week for the solar industry that rallied around a jobs report reaffirming the staggering growth of photovoltaics in the United States. Solar’s major contribution to new jobs in the U.S., China’s new title as the world’s top solar producer and the emergence of roofless community solar into mainstream markets are three key headlines from this week’s Solar Energy News report.
Job census: solar supplying major new job volume
The Solar Foundation’s National Solar Jobs Census 2016 was released last week, and with it came a number of surprising victories for solar power. Three key stats headlined the report:
- The solar industry is growing at 17 times the rate of the overall U.S. economy
- One in 50 new jobs in the U.S. last year were in solar power
- 9% of solar jobs go to veterans, compared to 7% of the overall U.S. economy
In 2016, the solar industry saw 25% year over year growth, adding 51,000 new jobs to reach a total of 260,077 employees in the U.S. solar sector. One of the most reassuring facts from the report: 44 out of 50 states saw an increase in solar jobs in 2016, showing that the hot solar industry is benefitting the country as a whole, not just the sunniest states. Furthermore, all job sectors in the industry saw impressive growth. Check out the breakdown:
- Manufacturing sector: 26% growth
- Solar installations: 14% growth
- Project development: 53% growth
- Sales sector: 32% growth
The individual numbers tell a clear story: the solar industry is expanding, and it’s offering new jobs in every aspect of the solar process. “It’s really a wide range of people that get hired into this industry – everybody from certified and licensed engineers, to those who first learned about a solar project when we were building one in their area,” said George Hershman, senior Vice President at Swinerton Renewable Energy.
Among U.S. job growth, Michigan stands out
Though the nation as a whole saw notable solar job growth in 2016, the state of Michigan was highlighted in particular in The Solar Foundation’s report. In 2016, the Great Lake State achieved a whopping 48 percent growth in solar jobs. Roughly 160 companies now employ solar workers in Michigan, making the state the 16th in the country in terms of solar employment. Major Michigan companies are without a doubt on board with solar: General Motors, Ford and IKEA have all launched individual solar initiatives. Even more, the largest utility in Michigan, DTE Energy Co., added 200 solar jobs in 2016 and has invested $73 million in solar over the past 8 years.
China becomes #1 solar producer
This past week was a big one for China – it became the world’s #1 solar energy producer, knocking off Germany out of the top spot. As of the end of 2016, China reached an impressive 77.42 gigawatts of installed solar, solidifying its position in the driver’s seat in terms of world solar development. This victory is even more impressive in light of the fact that China has been and remains the world’s number one producer of carbon emissions. In 2016, China nearly doubled its solar capacity – an unprecedented feat – and showed the world that it will follow through on the major emissions reduction targets it agreed to last year. Under the new Trump administration, it is unclear if the U.S., the world’s second largest polluter, will follow through on its own commitments.
Community solar will see major growth in 2017
Though solar energy is known to be an efficient and pragmatic energy solution due to its affordability and low-footprint impact, there are some constraints to solar growth. A major one is the suitability of certain roof types: the reality is that not every roof is conducive to hosting solar panels.
Enter community solar. Just as the sharing economy has taken off in the transportation industry (Uber, Lyft) and travel accommodations sector (Airbnb), it has also found a home in the solar industry with the concept of community shared solar, a concept wherein many people pay for a share of a large solar array and source their energy from a communal solar power plant.
A recent report from GTM showed that the U.S. community solar market will reach the 400 megawatt mark in terms of installed solar energy in 2017. The real key to the success of roofless shared solar is the modern day utility, and utilities across the nation are jumping on board in order to reach their state goals for power generated from clean energy sources. “Looking ahead, the community solar market will be defined by utilities scaling up pilot programs beyond a single sub-1-megawatt project,” said Cory Honeyman, Director of Solar Research for GTM.