Every year, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the Solar Foundation, the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) and BW Research release the National Solar Jobs Census. Each release is a great opportunity to take a step back and take stock of the solar industry, and this year’s report–which was launched earlier this month–is no different. Taking a look back at 2020, this year’s Solar Jobs Census chronicles the impact of COVID-19 on the solar workforce, tracks efforts to diversify the solar industry, and looks to the future for how many workers the solar industry will employ under different policy scenarios. Spoiler alert: we’re all hiring!
Key takeaways from the National Solar Jobs Census
- The solar industry employed just under a quarter million people in 2020, down nearly 7 percent year over year
- The Solar Jobs Census forecasts significant growth in solar jobs over the next 10-15 years, with the industry poised to double–or even quadruple–in that time
- The best way to support local solar jobs, is to use a local solar company to go solar!
Tracking solar jobs over the last decade
The 2020 National Solar Jobs Census takes a look at a decade worth of growth in the solar industry, as the number of solar workers more than doubled between 2010 and 2020. In 2020, the solar industry employed 231,474 people across the country (including those of us at EnergySage!) in a wide range of roles, from installation to manufacturing to sales and distribution.
However, over the last couple of years, the job growth in the industry has stalled a bit, with the industry reaching a peak in 2016. And in 2020, solar employment nationwide decreased by 6.7 percent, as the COVID-19 pandemic induced shutdowns and regulations led to reduced staffing levels across different segments of the industry.
Interestingly, despite the decrease in solar employment at the national level, 2020 was the best year ever for solar installations in the US. Taken together, this means that the productivity of solar workers reached record levels, with each solar worker responsible for over 200 kilowatts of solar capacity, on average.
What the future holds for solar jobs
At a high level, there’s one word to describe what the next decade (and beyond) will look like for solar employment: growth! According to the National Solar Jobs Census, at baseline, the solar industry will need to employ more than 400,000 Americans by 2030 to meet forecasted solar demand, nearly doubling the number of workers employed by solar in less than a decade.
To reach the clean energy targets and goals proposed by the Biden Administration, SEIA and the Solar Foundation forecast that the solar workforce will increase four-fold over the next fifteen years, reaching more than 900,000 workers by 2035 – that’s more than the population of five states!!
Rooftop solar supports the most jobs
Importantly, the path we take to reach those clean energy and emission reduction targets has a major impact on the number of jobs that the clean energy transition will create. A recent analysis of utility filings by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) found that “for every million the utility proposed spending on rooftop solar, it would create 30 times more jobs than $1 million spent on utility-scale solar.” That’s a big deal!
That sort of job growth will require significant workforce development and training initiatives, especially given recent reports about the difficulty to find qualified, trained labor in the clean energy sector. In fact, in our 2020 Installer Survey, solar installers across the country listed a lack of trained labor as the second largest barrier to growth for the second year in a row. This gap between qualified labor and the demand for solar workers represents a major opportunity for workforce training.
How to support local solar jobs
At the end of the day, whether you work in solar or not, the best way to support local solar jobs is to hire a local solar company to go solar, or to subscribe to a local community solar project. EnergySage provides an easy way for you to do just that–when you sign up for a free account on EnergySage, we’ll provide you with custom solar quotes from solar companies in your area. And if you’d like to harness the benefits of solar without putting solar panels on your property, check out our community solar marketplace to see if there are openings in projects near you.