UPDATE: Solar Employment Continues Growth in 2015

Another year ends and new year begins, and with it comes a myriad of best-ofs, retrospectives, and reports for the past 12 months. Among those, don’t miss the sixth installment of The Solar Foundation’s National Solar Jobs Census[1], a yearly report covering current employment, trends, and projected growth for all things related to the U.S. solar industry. (I covered the release of the 2014 census in a previous blog post.)

It should be noted that all census activities were conducted prior to the recent extension of the Federal Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC).  The ITC was previously slated to be cut or expire altogether at the end of 2016. The Solar Foundation points out that the extension of the ITC may result in slightly lower solar employment growth in 2016 than what was projected in their report due to reduced pressure to complete projects before year’s end. The employment benefits of those projects whose schedules are pushed out will be seen the following year. Coupled with the long-term benefits of the ITC extension, it’s therefore expected that the growth numbers for 2017 and beyond will be higher than those shown in this report, which depict the industry’s future without the ITC extension.

In 2015, solar again continued its upward trend adding an estimated 7.4 GWDC to the grid of new solar PV alone, a 19% increase over 2014[2]. With that growth came a 20.2% increase in solar employment, just shy of the projected 20.9% increase for 2015 published in last year’s report. That’s about 35,000 new jobs just this year, the majority coming from new jobs in the installation sector, which is not surprising considering it makes up about 80% of the industry. That means a huge lift in the number actual boots on roofs. The solar industry’s growth accounted for about 1.2% of all job growth in the nation last year.

Solar Employment Growth by Sector (Source: The Solar Foundation)

Solar Employment Growth by Sector (Source: The Solar Foundation)

As mentioned above, with the recent extension of the ITC, new capacity and job growth in 2016 may be a bit more conservative than the numbers mentioned in the Census, but overall far more stable in the longer run for years ahead. This long-term job growth will likely only be reinforced by new policy and awareness from opportunities such as the newly passed EPA Clean Power Plan and the recent COP 21 Paris Summit on Climate Change.

Of particular note, the report does not explicitly speculate on the expansion of intersections of parallel industries with the solar industry. Energy storage as it relates to solar has seen huge growth in policy, acceptance, and cost effectiveness in the last year. Energy storage and smart controls allow solar energy facilities to be responsible grid citizens by enabling a variety of grid support features at the source of the power. With new mechanisms for monetizing and incentivizing these features it’s estimated that the next few years will bring an exponential increase in energy storage deployments. This expansion of market opportunities for the solar industry is likely to boost employment to new heights as solar becomes a more permanent figure in the smart-grid solution.

figure 2

Energy Storage Deployments by Segment (MW), 2012 – 2019E (Source: GTM Research)

[1] http://www.thesolarfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/TSF-2015-National-Solar-Jobs-Census.pdf

[2] http://www.seia.org/research-resources/solar-market-insight-2015-q3

About Evan Merkel

Evan Merkel is a Renewable Energy Engineer from Baltimore, MD. He loves the smell of PV in the morning. He can be contacted at emerkel@antaresgroupinc.com.

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