Meister: Solar brings the most jobs for the money (with chart)

Will the astonishingly good jobs news ever end for the solar industry? According to one well-respected consulting firm, the answer is simple: not any time soon.

A report released last week by Meister Consultants Group places the current solar workforce at 208,000 – slightly lower than the figures produced from The Solar Foundation’s National Solar Jobs Census (260,000) and significantly less than a Department of Energy report earlier this year (373,807).

The most exciting piece of news for the industry – adding another argument to the already overwhelming case for states to invest in solar – is its suggestion, based on research at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, that investments in solar generate roughly three times more direct and indirect jobs than comparable investments in fossil fuels.

And solar jobs are more stable than those created in other economic sectors. According to Meister, 80% of jobs are demand-side services like installation and sales.  Unlike manufacturing jobs in other industries, solar jobs are inherently local. This means it’s nearly impossible to outsource them.

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Meister is also encouraged by the Bloomberg New Energy Finance report that the unexpected extension of the investment tax credit (ITC) in late 2015 could produce 220,000 more solar jobs over the next seven years.

And even with the lower overall job estimates, Meister says that the solar industry is producing jobs at a rate 12 times the rest of the U.S. economy. California and Massachusetts lead the way in job creation, with relative newcomers New York, North Carolina and Florida closing in quickly. Texas is another dark-horse state that some are predicting could become the second-largest solar market by 2020.

The report cites plunging panel prices, which they say have dropped 72% between 2010 and 2015, allowing solar PV to compete at grid parity in many U.S. markets. As prices have dropped, solar deployment has skyrocketed tenfold in the past eight years, from 876 MW in 2010 to 14.7 GW of solar last year, according to GTM Research.