The solar industry provided more than 200,000 jobs in 2015, a 20 percent increase from the previous year.
The Solar Foundation’s sixth annual census found that solar jobs accounted for more than 1 percent of all new jobs in the U.S. in 2015. As of November, the figure was 208,859, a 123 percent increase since the first survey in 2010.
That figure is greater than all of the gas and oil extraction jobs in the U.S. in 2015, which ended up at about 185,000 in December from a high of 199,000 in January, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. By contrast, the solar industry added 35,000 positions last year.
Two-thirds of the total solar jobs were in the residential sector, nearly a third were in the utility-scale market, and the rest were in commercial. Most of the positions were on the installation side, with manufacturing coming in a far second.
Source: The Solar Foundation
The number of women in the field continues to tick up as well. It's now at about 25 percent, but it is still far out of line with the wider workforce, where women constitute about 47 percent of all workers. One sector where women make up a more significant portion of the jobs is in the “other” category, which includes R&D, nonprofit, academic and professional services positions. In these domains, women make up nearly 40 percent of the workforce.
The strong growth in 2015 was due in part to policy uncertainty. Over the course of the year, solar installers had already started ramping up hiring to get installations in place ahead of the potential extension of the federal Investment Tax Credit at the end of 2016.
With the five-year ITC extension now in place, there is an opportunity for steady solar growth where there otherwise would have been a drop-off. GTM Research forecasts the ITC extension will increase solar installations 54 percent through 2020. The Solar Foundation also notes other drivers, such as declining solar costs, which are speeding up the pace of solar adoption by many major corporations.
Despite the policy surety provided by the ITC extension and falling costs that make solar attractive in more regions, there are threats on the horizon that could hamper the stability of solar job growth. Recently, the Nevada Public Utilities Commission applied rate cuts and higher fixed charges to existing solar customers, which has led to an exodus of solar jobs from the state.
Most other states have not applied retroactive changes to net metering, but more than half of all U.S. states are considering overhauls to net-metering policies that would impact residential solar installations, which account for the bulk of U.S. solar jobs.
Even with uncertainty around net metering in a number of states, the solar industry expects to tack on around another 30,000 jobs in 2016. With the continued growth, solar companies are increasingly finding it is difficult to find qualified employees. In 2015, project development is catching up to installation and sales in terms of there being a limited number of qualified candidates. About 25 percent of employers in the field now say that project development is “very difficult to hire” for, a trend that is expected to continue in 2016.