Solar jobs remain sunny spot in U.S. employment market

Solar jobs remain sunny spot in U.S. employment marketWith the U.S. economy sputtering and jobs growth numbers dismal, the solar industry has proven to be a sunny spot of growth. Preliminary results of a new study from The Solar Foundation show that the solar industry continues to add jobs.

The solar industry employed 100,237 people as of August 2011, according to the preliminary results of the foundation’s National Solar Jobs Census 2011, now in its second year of publication. That’s up 6.8 percent over last year, when it employed roughly 93,000 workers. Since then, across all states and sectors of the industry, it’s added 6,735 new jobs.

The full results of the study conducted by The Solar Foundation and Green LMI (a division of BW Research Partnership) with technical assistance from Cornell University, will be released next month at the Solar Power International conference in Houston. But given some of the recent economic turbulence and scrutiny of the solar industry following negative headlines like the failure of Solyndra, The Solar Foundation Executive Director Andrea Luecke figured now was a good time to show the good news.

“A lot of people obviously are talking about green jobs. It’s a hot topic and relatively controversial,” Luecke said. “We have this great number, and there’ s no use for us to sit on it right now. I think it really helps to show the value of the industry.”

The report explains how many people are employed by the different sectors of the solar industry as well, according to Luecke.

“It looks at installation, manufacturing, sales and distribution,” she said.

The report also includes research and development and some other subsectors of employment. Those figures won’t be available until the full report is released. But in 2010, the report showed that the majority of positions were on the installation side.

“It’s a trend we’ve been seeing for some time,” she said.

Prior to The Solar Foundation’s first solar jobs census in 2010, there wasn’t too much information available about how many jobs the solar industry was creating, according to Luecke.

“Last year’s report was a baseline report,” she said.

With the first year of the report out and previous employment estimations from the Solar Energy Industries Assocaition (SEIA), the report can start to show the compound annual-growth rate in jobs for the solar industry, she said.

One of the things this year’s report will show is how government spending through incentives is creating more jobs.

“One of the differences between the 2010 report and the 2011 report is we’re going to have a lot more information on the top 20 states for solar jobs,” Luecke said. “It will show very tangibly that smart policies do lead to job creation.”

Image courtesy of NREL.