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Good Day, Sunshine: Solar Industry Shows Strong Job Growth

J. Mijin Cha

Listen to some critics and you might think that a thriving greens jobs sector is just another utopian fantasy.

In fact, it is an empirical reality.

A new study, the National Solar Jobs Census 2011: A Review of the Solar Workforce, shows that the employment growth rate in the solar industry was nearly 10 times higher than the average national rate over the past year. There are now over 100,000 solar workers in the U.S. and that number is expected to increase by 24 percent by 2012.

Given the broader economic context of the lasting recession, these numbers are remarkable. Yet, the numbers provided in the study are the bare minimum level of solar employment as the census was a survey of mainly private employers and did not include the government, academic, or nonprofit sectors. Including these sectors, the actual number of employees working in the solar industry is likely to be much higher.

More importantly, the survey shows that employers from all of the solar subsectors studied expected significant employment growth, meaning a wide variety of jobs would be available for workers with varying skill sets. Nearly half of the firms surveyed expect the growth to continue and anticipated continuing to add employees over the next years while only 2.6 percent expect to cut workers over the same time period. In contrast, the overall employment picture remains grim with unemployment predicted to hover around 9 percent by the end of the year.

Finally, the survey underscores the importance of government support. Over half of the respondents said that local, state or federal incentives were positive factors for growth. With strong government support and programs, like a feed-in-tariff, the solar industry can experience even greater growth. Like any industry, providing stable and consistent incentives, mandates and support provide the market stability and demand needed to attract private capital and set the foundation for long-term industry growth.

Green jobs are growing fast. With a few smart nudges, this sector can grow even faster.