The 2018 National Solar Jobs Census, released this week, reaffirms an oft-cited benefit of the solar industry—that solar is a major job creator. As of late 2018 are 242,343 solar workers in the U.S., meaning that the solar industry employs more people than any other energy sector other than oil and gas. Between 2013 and 2018, solar jobs grew at a rate six times faster than the overall U.S. economy.
The results weren’t all rosy, however. For the second year in a row, total employment in the solar industry has declined slightly, after seven years of growth. The Solar Census reports that uncertainty over whether the federal government would impose tariffs on imported solar components (which led to delays of many projects) contributed to the decline, as did policy changes and economic challenges in some established state solar markets.
Despite these recent challenges, more than half of states in the U.S. added solar jobs. Additionally, the report paints a bright picture for the future of the solar industry, with survey respondents reporting an expected increase in hiring in the coming year. It also overs valuable insights on hiring trends in the solar industry, industry demographics, and more.
The National Solar Jobs Census is an analysis of employment in the U.S. conducted annually by The Solar Foundation. It is the most rigorous and comprehensive review of its kind, based on an extensive survey of solar industry employers. We delve into its 2018 findings and what you need to know about the current state of the solar market in the U.S.!
Solar Jobs 2018: The Big Picture
In 2018, solar employment declined by 3.2%—or 8000 jobs across the country. In addition to uncertainty about tariffs resulting in postponed projects, contraction in some states with historically strong solar markets contributed to the decline.
It’s important to keep these losses in context, however. Since the first Solar Jobs Census in 2010, the solar workforce has added nearly 150,000 jobs—growth of 159% percent. And between 2013 and 2018 solar employment increased 70% (100,000 jobs), compared to 9.13% job growth in the U.S. economy overall.
Additionally, the solar industry outlook for 2019 and beyond is positive. Based on the survey results, solar jobs are expected to increase by 7 percent in 2019, bringing the total to 259,400 jobs.
Where Solar Jobs Were Gained and Lost
States with the largest job reductions included California (-9,576 jobs), Massachusetts (-1,320), North Carolina (-903), Arizona (-857), Maryland (-808), New Jersey (-696), Georgia (-614), and Hawaii (-595).
In California, which still remains the state with the most solar jobs despite significant declines, there were a number of factors at play. The Census cites reduced pressure on utilities to meet their clean energy goals because they have already made significant progress, as well as uncertainty over rate structures for non-residential solar customers.
California did implement a number of notable pro-solar policies in 2018, such as mandating solar on all new homes and committing to 100% renewable energy. While 2018 was too early to see the impact of these policies, they bode well for stronger growth in the coming years.
In Massachusetts, policy uncertainty prior to the release of the state’s new Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) program, a successor to its SREC program, contributed to the decline. However, once the new program was launched in September of 2018, there was a rush of new applications—a positive sign
On the bright side, 29 states saw solar job growth. Among the states that experienced the most solar job growth are Florida (+1,769 jobs), Illinois (+1,308), Texas (+739), New York (+718), Ohio (+644), and Washington (+612). The report highlights contributing factors in different states such as Illinois’ Future Energy Jobs Act, which includes an Adjustable Block Program to support distributed energy systems and community solar projects, and Nevada’s reinstated net metering policy in 2017. In states like Texas without relevant policy changes falling cost of installations were a contributor to solar industry growth.
Other Notable Findings
The 2018 Solar Jobs Census also provides valuable insights on how solar jobs are distributed across different sectors and what the demographics of the solar industry are. It also provides insights on the hiring experiences of companies—such as how difficult it is to fill positions and what qualifications employers are looking for.
What Sectors are Solar Jobs In?
The solar installation and project development sector employs two-thirds of solar workers, with 155,000 solar jobs. Of these, 56% percent (87,000) focus on residential solar compared to commercial and other non-residential solar (including community solar), which employs 30% (46,000). The remaining 14% of jobs are in the utility-scale sector (87,000).
Manufacturing employs 14% of solar industry workers, while operations and maintenance (O&M) employs about 5%. The “other” category—including engineering, legal, and financing companies—also employs about 5% of solar industry professionals.
What Are the Demographics of the Solar industry
The Solar Foundation also built upon its past efforts to highlight diversity needs in solar with an update on industry demographics. In 2018, they report, the solar industry was more diverse than other comparable industries, but still not representative of the overall population.
Women represented 26.3% of solar industry workers. Latino or Hispanic workers represented 16.9%, Asian workers comprised 8.5%, and black or African American workers comprised 7.6%. Veterans represented 7.8% of industry workers, a decline from 8.6% in 2017.
Solar Hiring Trends
In 2017, many solar employers reported difficulty finding qualified workers and in 2018 that was even more of a challenge. Twenty-six percent of companies reported that it is “very difficult” to fill open positions with qualified employees, an increase of 44% from 2018. The greatest hiring difficulty was in the installation and project development sector.
In terms of what employers are looking for in job candidates, experience was the most common requirement, reported by 60% of companies (up from 55% in 2017). The Census also reports that solar industry wages are competitive with similar industries, with a median wage of $18.12.
The solar industry is playing an important role in the U.S. economy, delivering new well-paying job opportunities while helping to tackle the critical impacts of climate change. With positive projections for 2019 industry growth, we look forward to the industry getting back on track and installing even more clean energy. The 2018 Solar Jobs Census is chock full of many more insights than we could cover in the blog post—download the full report here to learn more!