Growth year for solar energy creates 17,000 new jobs despite harsh recession

Sign the Solar Bill of Rights

Guest blogger Rhone Resch is President and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Solar jobsAs Americans, we make decisions by finding a balance between personal values and pragmatism — is it the right thing to do and is an effective solution or improvement? This balance persuades us to order a salad instead of fries or to buy a hybrid car instead of a Hummer. Or, in my family’s case, installing a solar photovoltaic system on my roof instead of relying on electricity from the nearest coal plant.

For us, national energy policy works the same way.  Environmental conservation and the free market shape our decisions for better or for worse. This week’s release of the 2009 US Solar Industry Year in Review report shows, thankfully, that Americans are beginning to make the right choice. Statistics show that despite a harsh recession, the solar industry added new solar electric installations totaling 441 megawatts, pulled in $1.4 billion in new venture capital investments, created 17,000 new jobs and grew by 36 percent in annual revenue.

While coal and oil companies laid off workers or stayed static, the photovoltaic solar sector grew by 37% percent, three new concentrating solar plants came online and public awareness and support grew. Despite an unprecedented lobbying effort by the coal and oil industries, solar saw increased support from the White House, Congress and state governments. We saw unprecedented renewable energy provisions in the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, watched the establishment of a new Treasury Grant Program and the lifting of the $2,000 cap on the residential investment tax credit for solar thermal installations. The growth in the solar industry is proving that these policy investments are paying off.

Solar now boasts a total supply chain that supports 46,000 jobs in the United States, a number that is likely to surpass 60,000 by the end of 2010. With Earth Day fast approaching, diversifying our energy portfolio with clean sources that will combat global warming while making us more energy secure is becoming a pivotal political issue as well. Solar creates jobs across a wide array of occupations without polluting our air or water like fossil fuels, and doesn’t enrich questionable foreign entities.

PV Cost

For these reasons, solar fits into our culture of economic freedom and national independence. Recognizing this, I and 2,000 other Americans have signed the Solar Bill of Rights, a grassroots movement for leveling the playing field for solar – an energy source that 92 percent of Americans say they want more of, now. SBOR signers believe America can do better in supporting innovations that spur domestic growth and entrepreneurship without sacrificing security, health and economic comfort.

With spring being the time for renewed energy, we should all redouble our efforts to bring solar further into the mainstream energy market. Let’s fight for policies that will open up markets, form stronger industry coalitions, spread public and political awareness and create jobs.

Environmental conservation and energy development are two of my strongest personal values. That’s why I chose solar for my home and for my profession. It works, and creates work when people need it.

— Rhone Resch

JR:  You can sign the Solar Bill of Rights here:

1. Americans have the right to put solar on their homes and businesses”¦more

2. Americans have the right to connect their solar energy system to the grid with uniform national standards”¦more

3. Americans have the right to net meter and be compensated at the very least with full retail electricity rates”¦more

4. The solar industry has the right to a fair competitive environment”¦more

5. The solar industry has the right to produce clean energy on public lands”¦more

6. The solar industry has the right to sell its power across a new, 21st century transmission grid”¦more

7. Americans have the right to buy solar electricity from their utility”¦more

8. Americans have the right to – and should expect – the highest ethical treatment from the solar industry”¦more

9 Responses to Growth year for solar energy creates 17,000 new jobs despite harsh recession

  1. Joe1347 says:

    Maybe there’s growth projected for Photovoltaic installers, but the current trend for Photovoltaic manufacturers in the USA isn’t looking so great. Most of the recent growth in Photovoltaic (solar cell) manufacturing has been taking place off-shore. Sure there’s still some module assembly in the USA, but that’s low tech/low skill labor.

    At least Suniva and SolarWorld have expanded in the USA recently, while Advent Solar, GE Solar, Blue Square, and now BP Solar have ceased making silicon solar cells in the USA. A lot of good high tech (solar) jobs have been lost recently. Obviously, First Solar thin film CdTe business is doing well – but haven’t they been expanding most of their manufacturing overseas?

    I think a fair question to ask our politicians is whether all of these new photovoltaic installers should also be using ‘made in the USA’ solar cells. Should the only green jobs created be primarily construction oriented (i.e., installers) or should there be a push to also both preserve and create more actual domestic high tech (i.e,. R&D and manufacturing) jobs?

  2. fj2 says:

    The daily dose of solar energy hitting this planet is 6,000 times the global energy requirement.

    Massive commercialization of the technologies that convert this energy to useable form is a major solution to the world’s energy needs and the accelerating environmental crisis.

  3. We must focus our attention on what is critical in the urgent fight against global warming–cutting greenhouse gases fast and in large quantities. PV does not do that. It is the least able to do it since it is the costliest and thus produce the least green energy per dollar invested.
    The example of Germany goes on deaf ears. They spent $70 B till mid 09 and PV supply only 0.35% of Germany electricity. While Germany is increasing its reliance of coal.

    Obviously the Solar Industry association will say positive things about PV. But look closely at the reality of PV. First they stretched the price chart to exaggerate the price drop, and the chart does not start at zero, for the same reason.
    Second, no one is mentioning how much CO2 PV was reduced by PV systems and at what cost PER KWH. If we used the federal state and local financial support for energy efficiency, starting with increasing home insulation and weatherization- we would have cut 20 to 30 times the CO2 per dollar that PV could cut. BTW, energy efficiency would create many times more local jobs, and jobs that could not be transferred overseas
    We have to grasp that we do not have enough money to fight GW as effectively as needed. We do not have time also, GHG are increasing daily across the globe. The main, but not the only, emphasis should be on cutting greenhouse gases as fast and as much as possible per dollar available.

  4. Ken Johnson says:

    Re “personal values … the right thing to do …”: This sounds like an appeal to “altruism”, which Krugman believes has no role in climate policy: “… in a cap-and-trade world, acts of individual virtue do not contribute to social goals … climate altruism must take a back seat to the task of getting such a system [cap-and-trade] in place.”

    This principle is not just limited to individual initiatives. Should a Solar Bill of Rights include the right of individuals, organizations, and governments to reduce their carbon footprint without their action resulting in, and being nullified by, increased emissions elsewhere?

  5. fj2 says:

    3. Matania Ginosar, re: the high cost of PV

    Near total agreement with what you say. Solar concentrator technology — passive solar is even better! — is much more cost effective but photovoltaic is important for the future: no moving parts!

    Not too long ago the Commodore 64 personal computer was a big thing with 64 thousand bytes of memory. 64 billion bytes of solid state memory is now commonly available at a similar price. Just look at the scaling and this is the way the commercialization of the technology will go especially with IBM, Intel, and Hewlett Packard reported to have moved into the field as they were the major players who dramatically brought down computer prices.

    Solar concentrator technology is to hard drives as solid state chip memory is to photovoltaic.

  6. sailrick says:

    Mitania Ginosar

    I think you are exagerating the cost of solar. You mentioned First Solar, who has the cost of a solar cell down to something like $0.83/watt. If you can build a solar system for $2/watt, you are at about the cost of a coal plant. But you won’t need any coal or have pollution to deal with. Nanosolar says they can build systems at $2/watt. The costs are coming down because its being deployed, with the help of subsidies. Refined silicon has come down from $500/kgm to about $50 or less(I think $38 now) in just a few years and may reach $25 this year.

    Module prices came down 25% in the past year.

    Germany isn’t exactly the best place for solar geographically. The U.S. is blessed with enormous solar and wind potential.

    Solar thermal also needs an incubation period, which the NREL sees as brief, with lower construction costs and low power prices as the industry reaches economy of scale and overcomes initial learning curve.
    (4-7 cents/kWh) A study for the Western Governors Association (WGA)projected prices for concentrated solar power(CSP) below 10 cents/kWh after about 4 GW generating capacity was up and running, falling to the lower numbers as the industry gets up to scale. There are 6 GW plannned or being built right now. Arizona alone has CSP potential of 285 GW.

    The technology is relatively simple, and doesn’t need great leaps of technological improvement to be cost effective. What it needs, like PV is deployment. Its working pretty well for wind power.

  7. sailrick says:


    For a better idea why China is ahead of the U.S. in renewables manufacturing, see the following article.

    “China building ambitious “Solar Valley City” to advance solar industry ”

    “Solar Valley City is located in Dezhou, Shandong Province …… According to reports, around 800,000 people in Dezhou are employed in the solar industry, or one in three people of working age.”

    China has set a renewable energy standard for 2020, has set a goal of 100 GW from wind by 2020 and will spend $450 Billion subsidizing renewable over the next five years.

  8. Bill Woods says:

    Or, in [Resch’s] family’s case, installing a solar photovoltaic system on my roof instead of relying on electricity from the nearest coal plant.
    should read ‘… relying on peaking power from the nearest natural-gas or hydro plant’.

    3. Americans have the right to net meter and be compensated at the very least with full retail electricity rates…more

    Why would they have the right to more than the wholesale, spot price?

  9. joe garma says:

    Solar panel price declines are squeezing margins and driving many solar companies to the brink of insolvency. Once promoted as pieces of technical marvels, panels are now commodities. There will be far fewer solar companies in the near future than now. Consolidation — the big buying the small — is already underway.

    SunPower has bought SunRay. Asura was bought by French giant Areva. Even with a PG&E contract in hand, OptiSolar has shrunk, as it has been unable to obtain financing to built its plant.

    Speaking of financing, this is the key to success going forward. Those companies that have access to funding either for their own projects, or in behalf of customers who need to finance them — they will have the staying power.

    One further concern is the potential decline in residential demand for rooftop PV in tandem with the declining rebates, recently $1.10 per installed watt and now (or soon?) dropping to 60-something cents. Makes the investment less salivating. Thankfully, the 30% tax credit stays in force.