Last year, Mitt Romney tried to claim that the loan guarantee program supporting Solyndra caused investors to “pull back” from investing in solar. In fact, the last two years have brought record investments and project development in the industry, with U.S. installations growing 116 percent in the second quarter of this year — much of it driven by the loan guarantee program.
As a result of strong federal support, job growth in the industry continues to outpace the broader economy.
According to preliminary figures released last Friday by the nonprofit Solar Foundation, 13,872 new solar jobs were added from September 2011 to September 2012, bringing the total U.S. solar job count up to 119,016. This 13.2 percent increase surpasses the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s estimated employment increase of 2.3 percent during the same period. It also surpasses growth in some sectors of the fossil fuel industry – jobs in the fossil fuel electric generation industry fell by 3,857 or 3.77 percent, according to the study.
The full report, set to be released Nov. 14, bases its results on data gathered from more than 1,000 solar companies. The report will contain more detailed information about the reasons behind the employment increase, but a release from the Solar Foundation mentioned the falling cost of equipment and federal solar policy as some of the key drivers of job growth.
In 2012, solar energy accounted for about 2.5 percent of U.S. renewable energy consumption, according to the Energy Information Agency. That’s a still a small amount, but jobs in the solar industry are higher than some other industries with a higher penetration. Wind energy, for example, accounts for about 16.5 percent of U.S. renewable energy consumption, but provided 75,000 American jobs in 2011, compared to the Solar Foundation’s count of 105,145 solar jobs for the August 2010 to August 2011 period. The EIA predicts solar energy consumption will continue to increase over the next year – total U.S. on-grid photovoltaic capacity nearly doubled from 2010 to 2011 – and will grow 7-fold by 2035.
The Solar Foundation’s findings are in line with another report on clean energy jobs, which found that industries with higher numbers of “green” workers show higher rates of job growth than industries with fewer green jobs. The study analyzed BLS data and found that the higher the “green intensity” (the share of employment of green jobs, according to the BLS definition) of an industry, the higher the job growth.
Katie Valentine graduated from the University of Georgia with a degree in Journalism. Stephen Lacey contributed to this post.