Green Jobs Are Real: German and American Solar Industry Both Employ More People Than U.S. Steel Production

People want to know: Are green jobs real? The answer is resoundingly “yes.”

With roughly 93,500 direct and indirect jobs, the American solar industry now employs about 9,200 more workers than the U.S. steel production sector, according to 2010 Bureau of Labor Statistics. The American steel industry has historically been a symbol of the country’s industrial might and economic prosperity. But today, the solar industry has the potential to overtake that image as we build a new, clean-energy economy.

Last week, Germany’s economic development agency announced similarly big news: There are now more than 100,000 workers employed in the German solar PV industry alone. Why is that so significant? The U.S. figures take into account solar jobs in PV, solar hot water and concentrating solar power; Germany is only factoring in solar PV.

And as a reader over at Clean Technica observed: “The US has about 312 million people while Germany has 82 million, about 25% as many people…. That makes the German solar industry more than four times as large an employer than US steel based on country size.”A couple words of caution: These figures are comparing solar manufacturing, sales and installation to steel production alone. If one were to factor in products made from steel, the industry would be up around 160,000 workers.


With that said, the solar industry is just getting started here in America. Solar is a high-growth industry with the potential to create millions more jobs in a diverse range of sectors; while still an extraordinarily important industry, steel is not.

Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, explains the significance:

“Whether it is construction contractors, plumbers, electricians, assembly-line workers or even lawyers and accountants, solar is creating new opportunities at a time when so many Americans are looking for some good news on the job front. In just three short years, the solar industry has grown from a small start-up to an industry that now employs more Americans than U.S. steel production.”

Yet, even with such a big milestone for the U.S. economy, political leaders like Louisiana Representative John Fleming are questioning the “so-called green jobs that we’re yet to see produced.”

The bigger question for Mr. Fleming and other doubters is: Which curve do you want to place your bets on?

The continued growth in U.S. solar?

Or the uncertain future for U.S. steel? (The black line represents the U.S. and the red line is China.) Sadly, without leadership on a long-term renewable energy policy, the split between America and China below may just play out in the solar industry as well.

Below are the earlier comments from the Facebook commenting system

Ron Leonard

Yes even the Democrats have finally woken up and realized the Clinton mantra “It’s the Jobs stupid” works.Solar job growth here in the recession= Manufacturing 36%, Wholesale 35%, Installation 22% gains.We maintained the top slot until 2008, in government investment for clean Energy. Now third in 2010 with 34 billion spent and dropping fast. Germany (25% of our population) 41.2 billion spent, China 54.4 billion in 2010 a 39% increase over ’09 or putting it in another astounding way a investment equal to the worlds total funding for clean energy in 2004.It is sadly not like the money is not there for this investment, we gave away over 300 billion to the failed nuclear industry in ten years. How about the comparison of the amount you (the average american) gave to subsidize fossil fuels, the most profitable industry in the US economy, over 5 years, $521.73 what a bargain. What did you spend on clean solar in that time, $7.24?If we let the Bush era economics creep back in to kill this industry along with economy’s hope for new jobs, no problem, others are waiting in the wings to gobble up the market share here & worldwide and make us a third world in the realm of clean energy.

June 14 at 9:14amLeif Erik Knutsen

Good points Ron. I would add that a large portion of the Chinese investment capital came from the Unites States in the first place in our corporate quest to maximize profits by shipping jobs to China to leverage cheep labor as well as American propensity to buy low cost junk. Which is also a manifestation on no work here in the USA.

June 14 at 9:30am

Ryan Crain

I don’t know if this speaks to the benefit of solar or the sad decline of US Steel. Probably both. But interesting fact.

June 14 at 9:19amHans Oberdiek

Green Jobs!

June 14 at 9:54am


Must Read

Google invests $280 million in SolarCity.NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — Google and rooftop solar power company SolarCity announced a $280 million investment deal Tuesday, the largest such deal for home-based solar power systems in the United States.


In SolarCity’s case, the customer signs a multi-year agreement with the company and begins writing a monthly check to the firm that’s ideally 10% to 20% percent lower than what they were previously paying for their monthly power bill.

The government is funding this industry because it hopes that creating a market will foster technological innovation in the space, driving down the cost of solar panels to the point where they are competitive with fossil fuels. “Energy drives our businesses, and we want our energy to be clean,” said Needham. “Over time renewable energy will be cheaper than fossil fuel. We’re doing what we can to make that happen faster.”​06/14/technology/google_so​larcity/?section=money_lat​est.

June 14 at 10:32amStephen Lacey

Yes, big news. We’re covering it as part of a larger story!

June 14 at 12:00pm


Does the steel ind numbers account for jobs with recycling steel?

June 14 at 10:42amStephen Lacey

They didn’t break down the numbers that deep, unfortunately.

June 14 at 12:01pm


What a great piece and a real eye opener. Makes me wonder if those wonderful guys in congress ever read such articles and if they understand the true meaning? Probably not, so I suppose we will just watch the rest of the world march on while we stagnant even further.Jim Groom

June 14 at 1:21pmCarll Goodpasture

Seesm like an opening to create more jobs to me. The opportunity knocking calls for leadership. Does Mr. Obama understand this?

June 14 at 1:52pmAndrew McSwain

Solar production employment outpaces steel production in the US, with a lot of room to grow.

June 14 at 8:03pmJoy Hughes

Strange how the cumulative solar capacity grows exponentially — but then extrapolates only linearly, growing at a flat rate of 30GW/yr — yet we hear China alone will be ramping up to 50GW shortly. Expect exponential growth to continue and the Terawatt range to be reached by 2020.

June 15 at 12:16amChris Williams

China buys up all of the scrap metal it can find, usually here and can pay top $$$$$ for it because they pay slave wages or less so it’s very affordable for China even with shipping it from here back to China to be remage and shipped back here to be reused.They burn up a lot of fuel shipping it back and forth but then again China.I wonder how many of these steel companies in China are Patriotic American corporations that have out scourced this work just as Gateway, Dell and HP do and resell it here for enormous profits.It’s called the arbitrage of labor to avoid paying import tariffs and taxes. If it wasn’t for Wall St pushing for higher dividends and profits a verylarge amount of this crap wouldn’t be happening.We need fair trade that protected our jobs for over 200 years to help revitalize our manufacturing sector which in turn helps the housing market which helps the working middle class.

June 15 at 11:10amFritz A. Kreiss

There are still a lot of roadblocks to doing solar projects that can delay projects by a year for larger scale. We are developing projects from 2–112 mw DC and the permits and zoning and PJM interconnection is a long cycle.

June 15 at 4:39pmRobert Gould

This is a classic example of green fudged number lies. They take every possible person that might touch a solar panel and compare it to just the number of workers that make steel. Basically compare apples to oranges. If they were honest the steel number would be about half a million workers higher.

June 16 at 8:14amStephen Lacey

We make it clear that we’re talking about Steel production. Like in the solar industry, that includes transportation, production, management, accounting, executives, and every other worker in the value chain.

June 16 at 8:59am

Anya King

Hi Stephen, could you tell me where these graphs and data come from? Is there anywhere I can see the data? Thanks!

Yesterday at 9:35am