The Solar Foundation’s National Solar Jobs Census 2015 is the sixth annual edition of current employment, trends, and projected growth in the US solar industry. This year’s Census found that the solar industry continues to outpace most other sectors of the economy, adding workers at a rate nearly 12 times faster than the overall economy and accounting for 1.2% of all jobs created in the US over the past year.
The Solar Foundation’s long-term research shows that solar industry employment has grown by 123% since 2010, resulting in over 115,000 new domestic living-wage jobs.
As of November 2015, the solar industry employs nearly 209,000 solar workers, representing a growth rate of 20.2% since November 2014. Meanwhile, US businesses as a whole added just over 2.4 million jobs at an annual growth rate of 1.73%.
Over the next 12 months, surveyed employers expect to see total employment in the solar industry increase by 14.7% - which is 15 times faster than the overall economy is expected to grow - to approximately 240,0004 solar workers.
This report includes up-to-date information on the solar industry - quantifying employment growth since last year’s study and trends since the publication of Census 2010. These research findings also provide information on the potential for further growth and factors that are likely to impact the industry over the coming years. In addition to the above statistics, the following were observed as of November 2015:
• 2015 was the third consecutive year in which solar employment grew by approximately 20%. At 20.2%, the 2015 growth fell just short last year’s Census projected growth of 20.9%. By contrast, growth in 2013 and 2014 exceeded the Census’s prior year’s projected growth.
• Over one out of every 83 new jobs created in the US over the 12-month period was created by the solar industry – representing nearly 1.2% of all new jobs.
• Solar is a major source of new US jobs. Of the 35,000 solar workers added since November 2014, 83% were newly created positions with the remaining comprised of existing positions that have added solar responsibilities (17%).
• Employees of installation companies accounted for 22,900 or 65% of the new jobs added in 2015. l. The US solar installation sector employs 77% more people than the domestic coal mining industry. Since 2014, solar installation has created more jobs than oil and gas pipeline construction and crude petroleum and natural gas extraction combined.
• Of the nearly 209,000 solar workers in the United States, approximately 90% are 100% dedicated to solar activities. The “all-solar” percentage of workers is effectively unchanged since 2013.
The survey took place prior to the extension of the federal solar investment tax credit (ITC) beyond 2016. The extension is expected to reduce pressure to complete projects in 2016. This will likely result in lower solar employment growth in 2016 but higher solar employment in 2017 resulting in greater stability in solar employment. Prior to this policy change, major job losses had been expected for 2017.
• Demand-side sectors (installation, sales and distribution, and project development) make up about 80% of overall solar industry employment; installation firms account for the largest share of the workforce at 57%. Manufacturing comprises the second largest share at almost 15% of U.S. solar jobs.
• All sectors - with the exception of solar manufacturing - grew over the past year. Manufacturing jobs are expected to recover from the 2,200 job decline in 2015, growing by 3,800 jobs in 2016. These expectations are supported by industry construction activity.
• Approximately 63% of the nearly 209,000 jobs are in the residential market segment, while 15% are in commercial and 22% were in utility-scale development. Utility-scale development has fewer workers per megawatt installed than residential so there are fewer utility-scale jobs despite the greater amount of utility MW installed.
• About one in five employers report that it is “very difficult” to find qualified employees. Except for manufacturing, all of the “very difficult to hire” percentages increased from 2014. Installation increased from 19.4% to 26.0%, sales and distribution increased from 20.0% to 23.4%, and project development nearly doubled from 12.5% to 24.5%.
• Wages paid to solar workers remain competitive with similar industries and provide many living-wage opportunities. Solar installers pay a median wage of $21 per hour, a 5% increase over the $20 per hour wage in 2014. Manufacturers pay assemblers a median of $18 per hour. Sales representatives and solar designers earn the highest medians of $28.85 and $26.92 per hour respectively. All of these are above the national median wage of $17.04 per hour.
• Women represent a greater proportion of the solar workforce than in previous years. Women account for 49,775 solar workers – 24% of the total; this is up from over 37,500 or 22% in 2014. A lower proportion of certain racial and ethnic minorities are working in the solar industry than in 2014. The workforce is comprised of approximately 5% African American, 9% Asian/Pacific Islander, 11% Latino/Hispanic, and 8% veterans. Despite some of the percent declines from 2014, there was little loss in employed workers of diverse backgrounds.
• Experience is the most important hiring requirement for all sectors. Two-thirds of employers require experience compared with 35% requiring a bachelor’s degree or higher, and 10% requiring an associate’s degree but not a B.A. Nonetheless, the solar industry provides an opportunity for workers in low-wage jobs who pursue some training in solar-specific technologies, to move into sustainable wage careers in as little as 12 months.
• Policies and incentives remain important. Among policies and incentives, the 2015 Census found that 78% of solar firms noted that the federal ITC considerably or somewhat increased business prospects followed by 57% for state-level renewable portfolio standards (RPS) and energy efficiency resource standards (EERS); 56% of businesses expect the EPA Clean Power Plan to considerably or somewhat increase business prospects.
Data for Census 2015 is derived from a statistically valid sampling and survey that went to nearly 400,000 establishments throughout the nation, in sectors ranging from manufacturing, to construction and engineering, to sales. The results from the Census are based on rigorous survey efforts over the course of October 2015 that include 287,962 telephone calls and over 44,220 emails to known and potential energy establishments across the United States, resulting in data from 19,000 firms and a total of 2,350 full completions from US solar establishments.