In a year rife with strife, the solar power industry in the United States continued to chug along. The nonprofit Solar Foundation reported on Friday that the U.S. industry added 13,872 employees in the year ended in September, a 13.2 percent increase that brought total domestic employment to 119,016.
The period measured in the third annual National Solar Jobs Census was dominated by a fierce debate that pitted hard-hit manufacturers – led by the Oregon-based unit of the German company SolarWorld – who pushed for duties on Chinese crystalline silicon solar PV products from China, against thriving developers, installers and others in the solar supply chain who said such protectionist measures would stifle growth.
So far, duties – which could (finally) be finalized in the next week – have won out, but so too has job growth, despite the manufacturing sector’s woes.
“During the past several years, the solar industry has grown at significantly higher rates than most other industries, making it one of the foremost creators of new jobs in the United States,” Andrea Luecke, executive director of the Solar Foundation, said in a statement.
The group originally noted that the 13.2 percent growth rate was eight times the overall economy’s growth rate of 1.6 percent, but updated that to say the overall economy had grown at 2.3 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Either way, a very solid performance.
And the key to the growth? It was those lower prices that, whether they’ve done it illegally or not, Chinese companies have played a huge role in making happen.
“Nearly one third of employers who responded to the survey cited the continued decline in component prices as the primary driver of employment growth,” the foundation said. The organization cited federal tax incentives, renewable portfolio standards and legislation supporting third-party system ownership as other helpful factors.
The Solar Energy Industries Association cited those subsidies in its reaction to the solar jobs news.
“The solar energy industry is creating jobs in America when we need them most,” Rhone Resch, president and CEO of SEIA, said in a statement. “The rapid growth of jobs in the solar industry clearly demonstrates that smart policies, including the federal investment tax credit, are putting Americans back to work. In addition to jobs, these policies are driving down the cost of solar and providing a clean, reliable energy choice for millions of homeowners and businesses.”
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, the Solar Foundation said.
Along with the 2012 employment figure, the Solar Foundation released a revised figure for 2011, boosting it from 100,237 to 105,145.
“As in previous years, the survey examined employment along the solar value chain, including installation, wholesale trade, manufacturing, utilities and all other fields and includes growth rates and job numbers for 31 separate occupations,” the Solar Foundation said.