U.S. Solar Jobs Swell 20% as Credits and Prices Spur Demandby
Solar power may supply 3.5% of U.S. electricity by 2020
Report comes after two companies in Nevada announce job cuts
The U.S. solar industry’s workforce grew by 20 percent last year as a federal tax credit and falling panel prices prompted more people to power homes and businesses with the sun.
Roughly 209,000 people were working for solar companies in the U.S. last year, compared with 174,000 a year earlier and 143,000 in 2013, according to a report released Tuesday by The Solar Foundation. The study, based on data from 19,000 businesses, comes days after two of the largest U.S. solar installers announced plans to cut hundreds of jobs in Nevada.
The growth in jobs making, selling and installing panels comes as solar power has increased tenfold over the past five years in the U.S., accounting today for 1 percent of the nation’s electricity, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. The Washington-based trade group expects sunlight to generate as much as 3.5 percent of the country’s electricity by 2020.
“The U.S. solar industry is a strong and briskly growing employer of American workers,” Andrea Luecke, president and executive director of the Solar Foundation, a Washington-based research group, said in an interview.
Installation workers, who earn an median wage of $21 an hour, accounted for 65 percent of the jobs added last year. Sales and distribution employees, who earn $28.85 an hour, made up 12 percent, according to the Solar Foundation.
The industry’s growth comes as solar becomes more affordable. The cost of an average system has declined 67 percent since 2010, Luecke said. A federal tax credit, meanwhile, reimburses developers 30 percent of the cost of solar farms. That program had been set to expire at the end of this year and was extended in December by Congress through the end of 2021.
Last week, industry leader SolarCity Corp. of San Mateo, California, and Sunrun Inc. of San Francisco announced they were ceasing operations in Nevada and firing workers after regulators imposed new fees on rooftop panels.
In total, SolarCity’s workforce grew in 2015 by roughly 6,800 jobs, Chief Executive Officer Lyndon Rive said in a telephone interview Monday. The company plans to expand again in 2016, hiring an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 workers to meet its target of adding 1.2 gigawatts of capacity. “We have to staff up to achieve that,” Rive said.
Industry wide, the Solar Foundation expects the total U.S. solar workforce grow by another 15 percent this year.