For Solar Power Employment, Think Installer

If you’ve got your eye on a job in the green economy, one in the solar power industry, don’t think about working in a manufacturing plant. Get yourself trained on installing, not making the panels. That’s where the jobs are, according to new details from the Solar Foundation’s annual Solar Jobs Census that were released on Wednesday.

The group said that as of the end of September, installers employed 57,177 people in the U.S., a 17.5 percent increase over 2011.

race to the rooftops

image via Shutterstock

“The growth by installers, especially at larger firms, signals that this subsector is heading toward a period of consolidation and maturation on par with other successful industries at this stage of the growth curve,” TSF Executive Director Andrea Luecke said.

Strictly on a percentage basis, the broad category that includes research and development and finance saw the biggest gain, up 46.1 percent in the past year to 8,105 jobs.

solar foundation job census

image via The Solar Foundation

Meanwhile, the manufacturing subsector, plagued by overcapacity and overwhelmed by very inexpensive Chinese imports, was moving in the opposite direction – from   37,941 jobs in 2011, to 29,742 in 2012. Rhone Resch, head of the Solar Energy Industries Association, solar’s leading trade group, said in a statement that the segment is evolving and remains viable.

“While manufacturer jobs losses are unfortunate, this is a sign of a maturing and highly-competitive global industry,” Resch said. “We’ve seen this consolidation trend in other industries, and we’ll see it again. Still, more than 1,000 solar manufacturers operate in the U.S., and with strong demand expected in 2013, they are positioned to make a rebound. This makes it all the more important to continue smart federal and state solar policies that drive private sector investment,” .

Earlier this month, the Solar Foundation put out the top-level findings from its annual survey of solar employment, pegging total U.S. jobs at 119,016, up 13.2 from 2011.

For the year ahead, employers were forecasting another new 20,000 jobs. As the Solar Foundation noted, however, anticipated growth has tended to be overly optimistic, although steady gains – outstripping overall national employment growth, in fact – have consistently been registered.

“Though we have found in the past that employment projections tend to overestimate job growth, the actual growth documented by the Census series has nonetheless been impressive,” Luecke said. “The fact that such a large proportion of employers anticipate adding jobs despite the difficulties facing the solar industry suggests that solar employment will continue its upward growth trajectory.”

The Solar Foundation said the  report – done with BW Research and technical assistance from Cornell University – was compiled using data collected from more than 1,000 solar companies. That gave the report a margin of error of plus or minus 1.5 percent.

Sports columnist, newspaper desk guy, website managing editor, wine-industry PR specialist, freelance writer—Pete Danko’s career in media has covered a lot of terrain. The constant along the way has been a fierce dedication to knowing the story and getting it right. Danko's work has appeared in Wired, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.