Solar power employment grew by 20 percent again in 2015

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Solar power continued to be a booming business in 2015 as employment associated with solar energy grew 20.2 percent during the past year, according to the National Solar Jobs Census.

The Solar Foundation issued the report in association with the George Washington University Solar Institute and various other research partners.

According to the census, 2015 was the third consecutive year in which solar employment grew by about 20 percent. At 20.2 percent, the 2015 growth fell just short of last year’s census projected growth of 20.9 percent. By contrast, growth in 2013 and 2014 exceeded the census’s prior year’s projected growth.

This year’s census found that the solar industry continues to outpace most other sectors of the economy, adding workers at a rate nearly 12 times faster than the overall economy and accounting for 1.2 percent of all jobs created in the U.S. over the past year.

The Solar Foundation’s long-term research shows that solar industry employment has grown by 123 percent since 2010, resulting in over 115,000 new domestic living-wage jobs.

As of November 2015, the solar industry employs nearly 209,000 solar workers, representing a growth rate of 20.2 percent since November 2014. Meanwhile, U.S. businesses as a whole added just over 2.4 million jobs at an annual growth rate of 1.74 percent, according to the census report.

Employees of installation companies accounted for 22,900 or 65 percent of the new jobs added in 2015. “The U.S. solar installation sector employs 77 percent more people than the domestic coal mining industry,” according to the Solar Foundation census.

All solar sectors — with the exception of solar manufacturing — grew over the past year. Manufacturing jobs are expected to recover from the 2,200 job decline in 2015, growing by 3,800 jobs in 2016. These expectations are supported by industry construction activity.

Installation growth was particularly strong in a number of states, including California, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Nevada, Arizona, New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Hawaii.

While perennial market leader California will likely experience a decline in the growth of new installations compared to 2014, many states such as Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Texas and Utah are expected to experience growth in excess of 50 percent.

“Employment is directly tied to policy,” the foundation said in report. “In addition to well-known national incentives such as the federal investment tax credit (ITC), there are many state and local policies that impact growth.”

In December 2015, Congress approved a five-year extension to the solar energy investment tax credit which was due to expire in December of 2016, according to the solar census report.

The bill continues to provide 30 percent credits for commercial and residential projects started and completed from 2017 to 2019, a 26 percent credit in 2020, and a 22 percent credit in 2021. A 10 percent credit remains effective for commercial projects after 2021. Unlike the ITC expiring in 2016, the extended ITC annual deadlines include properties that are under construction; they don’t have to be completed and tied to the grid.

The Paris Summit on Climate Change recently concluded with a commitment to further increase use of renewable energy. Also in August of 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency finalized national limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants. The Clean Power Plan requires states to draft plans for the power sector to cut carbon pollution by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.

The report also notes that most states continue to support net-metering though many are exploring fees and improved rate design. The Solar Foundation also said that Nevada’s move to eliminate retail rate net-metering has prompted major installers to leave the state.

Among policies and incentives, the 2015 Solar Jobs Census found that 78 percent of solar firms noted that the federal ITC considerably or somewhat increased business prospects followed by 57 percent for state-level renewable portfolio standards and energy efficiency resource standards; and 56 percent of businesses that expect the EPA Clean Power Plan to considerably or somewhat increase business prospects.

The Solar Foundation is a non-profit organization whose mission is to increase understanding of solar energy through strategic research and education that transforms markets. TSF is considered the premier research organization on the solar labor workforce, employer trends, and the economic impacts of solar, the organization said.

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