Study shows where solar industry diversity falls short

solar jobs

Not a newsflash: White guys have it better than women and people of color when it comes to job opportunities and pay. What is noteworthy is the new research from The Solar Foundation in partnership with the Solar Energy Industries Association’s Women’s Empowerment Committee that provides statistically significant evidence of the hurdles that still need to be overcome, even in an industry as seemingly progressive as solar.

The 2017 U.S. Solar Industry Diversity Study is the first comprehensive study on diversity of the U.S. solar energy industry. Findings show that racial diversity within the industry has remained relatively stagnant over recent years, and that all people of color, particularly women, are at risk of being left behind as the solar workforce continues its rapid growth trajectory. Of the major findings, only 8 percent of African American respondents reported that they have successfully moved up the career ladder, and 50 percent think they have not been successful in moving up in their careers and feel “stuck” in their current positions.

Men are significantly more likely to earn wages that fall in the highest wage bracket of $75 or more per hour. 36% of white male respondents earn salaries in this wage bracket, compared to 28% of men of color, 21% of white women, and only 4% of women of color.

Among other findings, just over a quarter of solar employers formally track employee demographics and diversity and just over 1 in 10 companies (11.5 percent) has implemented a strategy to increase the representation of veterans at their firms. Meanwhile, 14 percent of companies have a strategy in place to increase female workforce representation, and 7 percent have a strategy in place to increase representation of non-white communities.

As Abigail Ross Hopper, President and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, noted during the opening session of Solar Power International, this isn’t just some push for inclusiveness because it’s a nice thing to do (which would be a perfectly fine reason) but also because stats back up a more diverse work place being more successful and productive.

“We know from decades of research that diversity is strongly correlated with financial performance across businesses. In the face of tremendous workforce growth, it is critical to create a solar culture that welcomes, encourages, and advances equity and inclusion. The opportunity cost is too great,” said Kristen Graf, Executive Director of WRISE: Women of Renewable Industries and Sustainable Energy. “We need as many diverse ideas, minds, backgrounds, perspectives, and talents as we can get at all levels across the industry. This study has shown clearly that we are falling short, especially with women of color. Now that we have this important starting point, we can and must do better.”

The path forward

The 2017 U.S. Solar Industry Diversity Study underscores the importance of diversity for employee well-being, strength of the workforce, and a company’s bottom line. The report also identifies a broad set of recommendations that solar companies can adopt to improve diversity. The action steps for solar companies include creating company-wide diversity pledges, establishing a formal diversity tracking and measurement tool, broadening recruitment efforts, implementing a “blind” job application process, and establishing diversity training programs.

“Just like having a diverse portfolio of energy resources is critical to our nation, so is having a diverse workforce,” said Julia Hamm, Smart Electric Power Alliance President and CEO. “The path towards a clean energy future can be best met when the industry reflects all of the customers it serves. The Solar Foundation’s Solar Industry Diversity Study provides a baseline, and now it’s on the rest of us to attract and retain the best possible ideas and talent by seeking out women and minorities for employment and advancement throughout our organizations.”

Props to the solar industry for producing such a study and holding itself accountable.

— Solar Builder magazine

Head to The Solar Foundation’s Summer Solstice networking fundraiser (promo code for discount here)

Summer Solstice solar party

Join Solar Builder at The Solar Foundation’s 7th annual Summer Solstice. This fundraiser brings together partners, allies, and friends to enjoy a beautiful summer night in Washington, D.C. and celebrate the benefits of solar energy. On the evening of June 22, celebrate and network with leaders in policy, government, industry, nonprofit, legal, and other fields for an upscale cocktail hour, panel discussion, and rooftop reception.

Hogan Lovells, LLP
June 22
5:30 p.m. – 9 p.m.

You can find more details on the Summer Solstice website

But be sure to use our discount code for 10% off: SB+TSF2017

This year’s Solstice guests will be treated to a variety of hors d’eouvres, complimentary drinks, twilight views of the DC skyline, and the opportunity to meet and network with leaders in the solar and clean energy sector.

This year, Solstice will feature an exclusive panel with:

  • Mary Powell, President & CEO, Green Mountain Power
  • Jigar Shah, President & Co-Founder, Generate Capital
  • Roger Ballentine, President, Green Strategies Inc.

All proceeds benefit The Solar Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to advancing solar energy use worldwide. We believe that increasing access to this clean, abundant, and affordable energy source will lift up people’s lives and bring about a prosperous future for all.

— Solar Builder magazine

Lack of qualified workers hurting solar installer growth, says new report

solar employees

Two-thirds of solar installation firms report that difficulty finding qualified applicants is increasing costs and impacting their ability to grow, according to a new research report released by The Solar Foundation, National Administrator of the Solar Training Network. The report also shows that increased investment in post-hire training could reduce labor costs and save the industry more than $10 million annually.

The research report, Solar Training and Hiring Insights 2017, aims to increase understanding of U.S. solar training, hiring practices, and market trends to help the industry make better, more informed decisions. The report aggregates and analyzes data from several research efforts, including an extensive survey of more than 400 solar installers; in-depth case studies of 10 solar installation firms; interviews with dozens of solar employers, trainers, and workforce development boards; and The Solar Foundation’s National Solar Jobs Census series.

Key findings

One key finding is that 65 percent of solar employers reported that difficulty finding qualified workers led to increased costs, while 68 percent said it impacts their ability to grow. And 39 percent said the recruitment costs and opportunity costs of delayed hiring amounted to more than $10,000 on average for each open position.
The report also shows that companies that invest more in post-hire training had lower installation labor costs on average. With continued and expanded investments in training, companies have the potential for increased labor efficiencies and decreased callbacks (i.e. returning to job sites to re-install or correct site errors) that could save the solar industry more than $10 million annually, the report shows.

The report also provides a state-by-state index that helps decision makers predict which states are most likely to experience shortages of qualified solar workers (see map below). These states are the most likely to need additional resources for training and workforce development in the coming years.

solar workforce development

Other key findings in the report include:

• Employers are not seeing enough applicants, with 50 percent of all firms nationally reporting deficient numbers of applicants.

• Employers are having the most difficult time finding candidates with adequate soft skills, as well as some form of hands-on electrical, roofing, or construction experience.

• When qualified applicants do join the solar industry as entry-level solar installers, there are staggering opportunities for rapid advancement and pay raises, largely due to the insufficient applicant pool. In an in-depth case study examining several major solar installers, entry-level installers were typically promoted at least once within 6-12 months, and saw an average increase in pay of 45 percent after promotion.

— Solar Builder magazine

New hyper local solar job data: What U.S. cities saw the biggest increases?

New data shows solar employment increased by a historic 25 percent nationwide from 2015 to 2016, for a total of 260,077 solar workers, according to The Solar Foundation. This growth occurred across all regions of the country — the number of solar jobs increased in 44 of the 50 states from 2015 to 2016. In 21 of the 50 states, solar jobs grew by 50 percent or more.


But you maybe already knew that 50,000-ft view. What’s happening in your markets? For those answers, you’ll want to check out this handy new Solar Jobs map, which shows metropolitan areas across the nation also saw historic solar jobs growth from 2015 to 2016,. For example, solar jobs in the Cleveland, Ohio metropolitan area doubled, for a total of 1,632 solar workers in 2016. The number of jobs in the San Antonio, Texas metro area increased by 146 percent to 1,767 solar workers.

solar foundation jobs

Jobs in the Albuquerque, New Mexico metro area increased 78 percent to 1,771 solar workers. Jobs in Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, Florida increased 40 percent to 1,215 solar workers. The Atlanta, Georgia metro area had 2,406 solar workers, a 15 percent increase from 2015; and jobs in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin metro area increased 20 percent to 1,033 solar workers.

“The solar industry is generating well-paying jobs everywhere from Detroit to Miami to Salt Lake City, and in states from Ohio to Texas to South Carolina,” said Andrea Luecke, President and Executive Director of The Solar Foundation. “America’s solar energy boom adds tens of billions of dollars to our economy each year, all while providing an affordable, reliable, and local energy source.”

The Solar Foundation puts the industry’s total economic impact at $154 billion.


Job criteria defined

Since 2010, The Solar Foundation’s National Solar Jobs Census has defined solar workers as those who spend at least 50 percent of their time on solar-related work. The Solar Foundation has consistently found that approximately 90 percent of these workers spend 100 percent of their time on solar-related work. The Solar Jobs Census 2016 was part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s U.S. Energy and Employment Report (USEER) data collection effort that included more than 500,000 telephone calls and over 60,000 emails to energy establishments in the U.S. between October and November 2016. This resulted in a total of 3,888 full completions for establishments involved in solar activity in the United States.

— Solar Builder magazine

The Solar Foundation, EnergySage partner on comparison-shopping solar marketplace

EnergySageTo advance a shared commitment to helping people make informed energy decisions, The Solar Foundation (TSF), an independent nonprofit research and education organization, is partnering with online solar marketplace EnergySage. The TSF-supported EnergySage Solar Marketplace brings transparency and choice to consumers that wish to go solar by allowing them to comparison-shop multiple solar quotes from hundreds of pre-screened solar installers, all from one platform.

RELATED: Four steps for converting more solar sales 

“Solar energy does much more than help people save money on their electricity bills,” said Andrea Luecke, President and Executive Director of The Solar Foundation. “The solar industry currently employs nearly 209,000 Americans and contributes over $16 billion to the U.S. economy. It also plays a critical role in helping governments, businesses, and universities meet sustainability and climate goals. The TSF EnergySage Solar Marketplace will magnify these benefits by ensuring that energy consumers are better informed and ready to make sound solar investments.”

There are a lot of decisions for consumers to make when seeking to go solar, such as selecting the right equipment, installer and financing options best suited for their home and budget. This has traditionally been a complicated and time-consuming process with virtually no transparency. The TSF EnergySage Solar Marketplace will empower consumers with easy access to free, unbiased information about solar technology, and obtain competitive price quotes on turnkey solar energy systems that will meet their individual needs. Consumers purchasing a solar energy system through the marketplace can expect to save up to 20 percent on the total cost of their purchase, as compared to getting a quote directly from an individual installer. The marketplace will be promoted as a trusted resource for consumers who look to TSF for impartial solar insight.

“Aligning with The Solar Foundation advances our shared quest of proactively helping homeowners and business owners better understand solar energy and the options available to them” said Vikram Aggarwal, founder and CEO of EnergySage. “This partnership helps broaden our ability to serve as an advocate for consumers and further enables us to make the process of shopping for solar energy systems as straightforward and affordable as possible.”

Both TSF and EnergySage are recipients of funding awards from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) SunShot Initiative. Through each organization’s DOE-supported work, they are providing the solar education and information necessary to simplify and lower the cost of solar energy adoption for American consumers.

Further reading: Consumers value solar install price transparency in EnergySage report 

— Solar Builder magazine