The solar industry added jobs at a rate nearly 20 times faster than the national average last year, according to an annual report.
The report, published Thursday by the Solar Foundation, found that more than 31,000 solar jobs were added in the U.S. between November 2013 and November 2014. According to the report, 85 percent of those jobs were new, rather than jobs that already existed but which added additional solar responsibilities. There are now a total of 173,807 people in the U.S. with jobs related to solar power, a number that’s increased by 87 percent over the last five years.
Most of the employment in the solar industry — 55.8 percent — is in jobs related to solar installation, the report found, while solar manufacturing accounts for 18.7 percent of jobs, sales and distribution accounts for 11.6 percent, and project development accounts for 8.7 percent. A few states, such as California, North Carolina, Massachusetts, and New York, led in solar installation from 2013–2014, but the report highlighted a few other states, such as Georgia, Indiana, Virginia, and Tennessee, which are experiencing surges in solar installation after a history of being slow to commit to the energy source.
According to the report, the solar installation sector beat out the oil and gas pipeline construction industry and the crude oil and natural gas extraction industry in 2014, creating almost 50 percent more jobs than those industries did. The report also expects solar jobs to continue to grow in 2015, predicting that more than 36,000 jobs will be added over the next 12 months.
Overall, the report found that one out of every 78 jobs created in the U.S. last year were related to solar. Andrea Luecke, Executive Director at the Solar Foundation, told ThinkProgress that though that number may seem low, it’s “definitely trending in the right direction” — the Solar Foundation’s report last year found that one out of every 142 jobs created in the U.S. was in the solar industry. In order to get that ratio even lower, Luecke said organizations like the Solar Foundation need to continue to educate people about the economic benefits of solar, especially as states are putting together plans for their compliance with the EPA’s carbon standards, “so they don’t gravitate towards natural gas as the low hanging fruit.” She also said the government and organizations need to continue to invest in solar research and development and continue to find ways to bring down the cost of solar.
States, too, need to do their part to create environments that encourage solar development by adopting solar-friendly policies, she said.
“You can map jobs and installed capacity by the types of state policies that exist,” Luecke said.
The Solar Foundation’s report also found that the solar industry increased in diversity from 2013 to 2014 — though Luecke said the industry still has a way to go get to where she’d like to see it on that front. About twenty-two percent of solar workers in 2014 were female, up from about 19 percent in 2013. About 16 percent were Hispanic and about 6 percent were African-American. Luecke said the solar industry can attract a diverse set of workers because it’s a place where “experience actually trumps education.”
“It’s very much open to people of different backgrounds in terms of experience,” she said. “You don’t have to have a bachelors degree to get a well paid job in solar.”
According to the report, solar installers make an average of about $20 to $24 per hour, and solar salespeople can make $30 to $60 per hour.
Luecke said in a statement that the report’s results prove that solar continues to be a “powerful engine of economic growth and job creation.”