At least that’s the gist of a new report from Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. The study, “Assessment of Incentives and Employment Impacts of Solar Industry Deployment," found that solar is on the same track that other energy sources in the U.S., like coal, oil, natural gas, and nuclear energy formerly took.
But the report also found that solar has the potential to create more jobs than other energy sources on a per megawatt hour basis. “The study finds that solar could support 200,000 to 430,000 jobs across the United States by 2020 and from 240,000 to 965,000 jobs in 2030 (including direct, indirect, and induced jobs),” said report author Susan Schexnayder, a senior research associate at the university’s Human Dimensions Research Lab.
“The low-end assumes the solar power in the U.S. grows at the same rate as the GNP [i.e., gross national product]. The upper end projection is based on the DOE SunShot initiative’s projected employment which assumes 26 percent annual growth, but is roughly consistent with a 20 percent growth rate that we model which is a tempering of the IPCC’s projection of 30 percent annual growth in U.S. solar capacity,” Schexnayder said.
Solar has been around for a while, but not as long as oil or coal. “Solar is not necessarily traveling any faster or slower along the adoption path than other energy resources, but it is on the same trajectory—with a relatively slow start followed by a period of rapid growth,” said Schexnayder. But to get to the level of mass adoption like other energy sources it still needs help. And why not? “The study points out that all energy sources—even those that have achieved full maturity—are subsidized,” Schexnayder said.
Some of those subsidies have been in place for a long time. The report sites a Management Information Services, Inc. study which looked at government incentives for energy industries from 1950 to 2010. It found that the oil industry has received $369 billion, coal $104 billion and renewables since 1950. Another study, from the Renewable Energy Policy Project, found that solar has received $5.7 billion since 1947.