Solar Employment Grows 20%, Outpacing Fossil Fuels

Solar Power

By Justin Bull

February 6, 2014

In 2013, the U.S. solar industry grew at an annualized rate of almost 20%, far outpacing the national average of 1.9%. 2014 promises to be a year of continued growth, with the solar industry expecting to add an additional 22,240 new solar workers.

The solar industry isn’t just creating a large number of jobs, it is generating quality jobs that pay a living wage. The average worker makes $23.63 per hour, and the majority are in solar installations, positions that can’t be outsourced.

This compares with anemic growth in fossil fuel industry. During the same census that collected the solar jobs data, fossil fuel electric generation declined 8.7%, shedding 8,500 jobs. And the coal industry grew by just 0.25%, according to The Solar Foundation, citing Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The current growth of solar is all the more surprising, given the sectors fortunes just a few years ago. The Solyndra scandal dominated headlines, and solar energy couldn’t compete with fossil fuels on cost.

But since then, industry has rapidly innovated, identifying new business, financial, and production models allowing it to flourish. 2013 was a year of massive growth, with almost a gigawatt of new capacity installed. The blistering pace of installation has the U.S. beating its own quarterly and annual records, and analysts predict the trend to continue. 

Despite the rapid growth of shale gas and shale oil plays across the U.S., the ability for solar to scale-up and create new, sustainable jobs, shows the transformative power of clean technology that can compete on cost.

Clearly, the U.S. is not Canada. The mean solar irradiance of the two countries differs enormously. But Canada is quite like Germany, which the U.S. only recently surpassed in the race to install new panels. To achieve solar growth in a northern clime, Germany required massive subsidies to the solar sector, and witnessed a huge decline in the book value of its utility companies. The sector is now stable, and the country has transformed its energy grid.

This begs the question – why is Canada so focused on developing non-renewable resources? These resources are in remote areas, extraction negatively impacts both the local and global environments, and most of the biggest plays are in fossil fuels.

Given the probability of “stranded assets” – oil and gas in the ground that will never be recovered due to the carbon risk – Canada should be diversifying. Clean technology, like solar, makes economic and environmental sense, provides living-wage jobs in local communities, and would help Canada prepare for a low-carbon future.