Solar jobs grow in the Midwest, Florida (w/ charts)

Share

It should not be a surprise that California is the top state for solar jobs. After all, California has around 40% of the installed solar capacity in the entire nation, and has led on deployment of large-scale solar since the late 1980s.

However, with national solar jobs numbers falling slightly from 2017 levels, the number of solar jobs in California actually fell 11% last year, according to maps and data released by the Solar Foundation. And as solar markets increasingly diversify, other states and regions are picking up the slack. In Florida, where large-scale solar has become so popular among utilities that even Disney’s utility is planning to buy power from solar farms, jobs increased 21%.

This allowed Florida to edge out Massachusetts as the #2 location for solar jobs in the nation, with 10,358 workers versus Massachusetts’ 10,210. And while New York is still in fourth place with 9,769 workers, Texas has also come out of nowhere to fifth place, with 9,612 solar jobs.

Like Florida, Texas’ growth is likely due to large-scale solar development, which pushed the state to the second-largest market after California last year. And there is more where that came from, as pv magazine has found 5 GW of approved projects in the interconnection queue of the state’s grid operator.

However, a county-by-county view shows that jobs are still concentrated on the West Coast and East Coast, with pockets in the rest of the nation.

 

The Midwest rises

While no state in the Midwest made the top five, Ohio came close in seventh place with 7,162 workers. Solar jobs in the Toledo metro area led the nation for growth, nearly doubling to 2,417.

First Solar has facilities near Toledo, and not only was the company’s factory in Perrysburg the largest solar manufacturing facility in the Western Hemisphere for many years, but the company is currently constructing another 1.2 GW factory in nearby Lake Township, Ohio.

This points to the changes seen in solar jobs in recent years. While manufacturing makes up only 14% of U.S. solar jobs – far exceeded by the installation sector – solar module manufacturing in the United States is seeing a resurgence in the wake of both the Section 201 tariffs and the tax reform rammed through Congress by the Republican Party in late 2017.

There may be other factors for the rise in solar jobs in other parts of the Midwest. Despite Illinois having little installed solar, Chicago was the second-largest area for solar jobs growth, and this is expected to continue with Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s (D) commitment to move the city to 100% renewable energy.

“It’s a point of pride that Chicago was one of the two leading metro areas for solar jobs growth last year,” stated Emanuel. “With over 1,000 solar jobs added in 2018, we’re already enjoying the benefits of a clean energy economy in Chicago. Our commitment to 100 percent renewable energy will help ensure even more jobs growth takes place in the coming years.”

 

Solar so white

But while the U.S. solar industry is expanding geographically, it still remains very white and very male. Women made up only 26% of the solar workforce, a poor showing even by energy industry standards, and those identifying as white 73% of the total.

Particularly notable are the very low numbers of black Americans. Less than 8% of the solar workforce identifies as black, despite black Americans making up more than 13% of the U.S. population. And if you go to any trade show, it will be obvious that black Americans in management positions in the solar industry are are rare as White Rhinos in the wild.

Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) CEO Abigail Hopper has emphasized diversity as one of her core issues, and a number of women in solar groups have formed to advance the position of women in the industry. However, there is still a long way to go.