Solar job growth supports development, manufacturing

Forty-four states saw solar jobs increase in 2016, meaning the industry has expanded significantly beyond its traditional strongholds of California and Arizona, although California created the highest number of jobs. Massachusetts came in second, with Texas, Nevada and Florida rounding out the Top 5.

This year’s census found that the solar industry continues to outpace most other sectors of the economy, adding workers at a rate nearly 17 times faster than the overall economy and accounting for two percent of all jobs created in the U.S. over the past year.

The solar industry now ranks second in total employment among energy industries, employing slightly more than natural gas and over twice as much as coal. The oil industry still has more total employment than solar by a factor of 38%.

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Still, solar employment growth accounted for over 16% of all electric power generation and fuels employment growth over the course of 2016. Furthermore, solar employment growth was larger than employment growth in oil, natural gas, and coal combined.

Demand-side sectors — including installation, sales and distribution, and project development — make up about 78% of overall solar industry employment; installation accounts for the largest share of the solar workforce at 53%, manufacturing comprises the second largest share at almost 15%, and the project development sector represents 13 percent.

Approximately 41% of the 260,077 jobs were mostly in the residential market segment, while 28% were in commercial and 31% were in utility-scale project development. Utility-scale development is less labor intensive than residential, so there are fewer utility-scale jobs despite the greater amount of utility megawatts installed.

Women represent a greater proportion of the solar workforce than in previous years, having risen by the 28% reported in 2016. Minorities also have experienced increases: Latino/Hispanic solar workers increased to over 17% of the solar workforce in 2016, and African American workers increased from to over six percent.

Over the next 12 months, surveyed employers expect to see total employment in the solar industry increase by 10 percent to approximately 286,000 solar workers.