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Solar Industry Grows 13.2 Percent, Adds 13K Jobs

News of job growth is always a good thing. But when that news just so happens to apply to a segment as beset with challenges as the solar industry, it crosses the line from good to great. Today, The Solar Foundation (TSF) announced encouraging statistics that show despite recent setbacks and reports of layoffs, the U.S. solar industry is expanding at a clip nearly six times that of the overall economy.

According to TSF’s National Solar Jobs Census 2012, the U.S. solar industry added 13,872 jobs between September 2011 and September 2012. Bringing the total of employed solar industry workers to 119,016, this leap represents a 13.2 growth in employment. In comparison, the overall economy poked along at a sluggish 2.3 percent during the same time period, according to information obtained from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In a press release issued by TSF, Executive Director Andrea Luecke said, “The solar industry has grown at significantly higher rates than most other industries in the past several years, making it one of the foremost creators of new jobs in the United States. These new solar industry jobs are sustainable, cannot be outsourced and play a critical role in our country’s economic recovery.”

Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Washington, D.C. based non-profit Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), said, “The solar energy industry is creating jobs in America when we need them most. 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.”

Information gathered from the voluntary online census, which queried more than 1,000 solar companies, also provided illuminating information as to the principal driving factors behind the industry’s surge in growth. The biggest percentage of participants, almost one third, cited falling prices for solar components as a primary driver of growth. Others pointed to federal tax incentives and state legislation allowing third-party system ownership, as well as the enacting of Renewable Portfolio Standards to foster the increased production of solar energy.

“This is what happens when government provides a stable policy environment,” Resch added. “The private industry does what it does best – creates new jobs for Americans.”

Monique Hanis, spokesperson for SEIA, said continued growth of the U.S. solar industry will hinge greatly upon the protection and expansion of successful state and federal policies, in addition to continued financing for solar projects and operations.

Public perception about the state of the solar industry is another factor critical to that growth, and has recently come under scrutiny due to recent reports of layoffs — but as Hanis points out, the solar companies most impacted by layoffs have been in the manufacturing sector, which accounts for a small percentage of all solar jobs. According to TSF’s 2011 solar census, that percentage was less than 14 percent.

“This is similar to other industries that have evolved over time,” said Hanis. “We’ve seen this in the automotive industry, in the IT computer industry, and in telecommunications. It’s a natural progression as an industry matures. You’re going to see consolidations in some sectors.”

Presently, the total installed solar capacity in the U.S. adds up to 5.7 gigawatts (5,700 megawatts). By the end of 2012, it is expected that another 3.2 gigawatts will be added, nearly doubling last year’s growth. Estimates indicate that 2013 will see the addition of another 3.9 gigawatts of solar capacity in the U.S.

Conducted by TSF and BW Research with assistance from Cornell University, the figures gathered by the National Solar Jobs Census 2012 included a wide range of jobs within the solar industry, for a total of 31 different occupations including manufacturing, sales, installation, and software development. The full report is scheduled to be released on November 14.

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Vince Font is a freelance journalist specializing in the fields of renewable energy, high tech, travel, and entertainment. Read his blog at www.vincefont.com or follow him on Twitter @vincefont.

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