Solar industry census: Jobs are way up

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While unemployment woes continue to plague the country, and oil and gas drilling jobs along the Gulf Coast are disappearing rapidly, one industry has found a silver lining.

If you didn’t know, the silver lining around a cloud is caused by the sun as it seeps through the edges of a dark cloud. The silver lining in this case is no different. It, too, is caused by the sun.

The Solar Foundation today (Oct. 13) released the first ever solar job census, which found that jobs in the industry are poised to grow another 26 percent over the next year, which amounts to 24,000 new jobs by August 2011.

In August of this year, the Foundation study discovered that more than 93,000 people are spending more than 50 percent of their workdays tiling in the solar field at more than 16,000 companies.

“Until now, we had a very unclear picture of the number of people employed in the solar industry,” said Tom Kimbis, chairman of the Solar Foundation.

There have been a lot of estimates and educated guesses made over the years about how many people work in the solar industry, Kimbis said. Researchers have used energy production figures and revenue dollars to make those estimates. Last year, the Solar Energy Industries Association released an estimate that 45,000 people were working in the field.

But this census marks the first direct count of solar jobs, Kimbis said.

Researchers worked hard to make contact with employers and find out how many people were working for them.

Researchers received survey responses from 99 percent of the utilities that feature solar as parts of their portfolios, Kimbis said.

The foundation evaluated 31 separate occupations represented in the solar industry from panel installation, manufacturing, and science to marketing.

“Among other things, this study shows that investments made through the Recovery Act—including the $2.3 billion in tax credits to U.S. based clean energy manufacturing—are already generating positive results,” Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis was quoted in a Solar Foundation press release. “The solar energy sector is an increasingly important source of good jobs for Americans.”

The Foundation worked with Cornell University to ensure that the census was done accurately and without bias, according to the press release.

"By examining the data from thousands of companies along the entire supply-chain,” acting executive director of The Solar Foundation, Andrea Luecke, said in the press release, “the study shows that the solar industry is having a substantial and positive impact on the U.S. economy."

The study found that more than half of all employers in the solar industry plan to increase staffing over the next year, the release stated.

Kimbis said the Foundation looks forward to conducting the census survey every year, using this one as a baseline from which to measure growth.

Pictured: Solar jobs, like the one seen here, are on the rise according to the Solar Foundation's recent solar census. Image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons.