Solar Jobs Census shows first jobs decrease since 2010, but 29 states gain

solar jobs illinois

U.S. solar industry employment declined in 2017, while jobs increased in numerous states with emerging solar markets, according to the National Solar Jobs Census 2017, the eighth annual report on solar employment released today by The Solar Foundation. The Solar Jobs Census found that 250,271 Americans work in solar as of 2017, representing a 3.8 percent decline, or about 9,800 fewer jobs, since 2016. This is the first year that jobs have decreased since the Solar Jobs Census was first released in 2010.

However, the long-term trend continues to show significant jobs growth. The solar workforce increased by 168 percent in the past seven years, from about 93,000 jobs in 2010 to over 250,000 jobs in 2017.

Additionally, solar jobs increased in 29 states and the District of Columbia in 2017, including in many states with emerging solar markets. States with significant job gains include Utah, Minnesota, Arizona, Colorado, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Tennessee.

California remains the state with the largest number of solar jobs nationwide, but jobs in California decreased 14 percent in 2017. In Massachusetts, the state with the second largest solar workforce, employment decreased by 21 percent. Access a complete table of solar jobs by state, along with the full report and other background information here.

“After six years of rapid and steady growth, the solar industry faced headwinds that led to a dip in employment in 2017, including a slowdown in the pace of new solar installations,” said Andrea Luecke, President and Executive Director at The Solar Foundation. “Uncertainty over the outcome of the trade case also had a likely impact on solar jobs growth. At the same time, the fact that jobs went up in 29 states is an encouraging sign that solar is taking hold across the country as a low-cost, sustainable, and reliable energy source.”

The Solar Foundation, a nonprofit educational and research organization, issues the National Solar Jobs Census each year to provide comprehensive and reliable data on the U.S. solar workforce. This year’s Census is based on a rigorous survey of solar establishments conducted between October and November 2017. The Census defines a solar employee as someone who spends at least 50 percent of his or her time on solar-related work.

Other key findings

Demand-side sectors (installation, sales & distribution, and project development) make up almost 78 percent of overall solar industry employment, while manufacturing makes up 15 percent. Demand-side sectors lost approximately 7,500 jobs in 2017, while manufacturing lost about 1,200 jobs.

The solar industry is more diverse than comparable industries, but more needs to be done to ensure it is representative of the greater U.S. population. Women made up 27 percent of the solar workforce in 2017, down 1 percent from 2016. Veterans made up 9 percent of solar workers, which is 2 percent more than the overall U.S. workforce.

Solar employs twice as many workers as the coal industry, almost five times as many as nuclear power, and nearly as many workers as the natural gas industry. (These comparisons with other industries are based on 2016 jobs numbers, the most recent data available for an apples-to-apples comparison.)

This year’s Census survey included approximately 59,300 phone calls and over 35,000 emails. Information was gathered from 2,389 establishments, of which 1,842 completed or substantially completed the survey. This level of sampling rigor provides a margin of error of +/- 1.25% for the national employment numbers.

— Solar Builder magazine

Solar Foundation outlines path for nonprofits to go solar in new report

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Our Project of the Year for 2017 was one such project.

Nonprofit community-based organizations, such as affordable housing developers and faith-based institutions, face many obstacles to funding solar projects, but innovative financing tools can help them overcome these hurdles. Our 2017 Project of the Year was one such project that found a way to overcome those hurdles. A new discussion paper released by The Solar Foundation, Urban Ingenuity, and Clean Energy Solutions outlines a path forward for nonprofits using a combination of power purchase agreements (PPAs) and Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE).

Community-based nonprofit organizations face unique challenges to solar energy development compared to institutions in the private sector, this paper notes. For example, investors can be hesitant to fund these projects due to perceived credit risk, small project size, and complex ownership structures. This means nonprofits lose out on the benefits of going solar, and the solar industry is unable to tap into a large potential market.

The paper describes these challenges in detail and outlines a solution known as a “PACE-secured PPA.” PACE is a project finance mechanism that enables long-term funding for renewable energy and energy efficiency, repaid through a special tax assessment. Meanwhile, a PPA allows customers to enjoy the advantages of solar energy with little or no upfront cost. By combining these two approaches, nonprofits can benefit from the efficiency of a PPA along with the security and transparency of PACE financing.

“Going solar allows community-based nonprofits to save money on utility bills while improving energy resilience,” said Ed Gilliland, Senior Director at The Solar Foundation. “However, the unique structure of many nonprofits can make financing solar projects a challenge. We believe that the approach we provide will make it easier for nonprofits to fund installations and enjoy the many benefits of solar.”
This discussion paper was released as part of the CivicPACE program to research how PACE financing can bring the benefits of solar energy more effectively to nonprofit organizations that cannot access existing federal tax incentives.

“With CivicPACE approaches, nonprofit community-based organizations like houses of worship, affordable housing developers, schools, and hospitals can finally reap the economic benefits of solar energy that too often are hard for them to access,” said Bracken Hendricks, CEO of Urban Ingenuity. “The PACE-secured Power Purchase Agreement is a powerful tool for realizing the promise of clean energy to help build stronger, more prosperous, and more resilient communities.”

“We have witnessed, over the years we’ve been working on validation and promotion of PACE financing, a sweeping change in its availability to nonprofit organizations,” added David Dayton, Chairman of Clean Energy Solutions, Inc. “We’ve been pleased to support this extension of the reach and benefit of PACE programs, enhancing charitable missions with solar energy.”

The full discussion paper can be viewed here.

— Solar Builder magazine