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U.S. Solar Employment Faces Bright Future as Wind Jobs Flutter

U.S. Solar Employment Faces Bright Future as Wind Jobs Flutter

Job growth in the U.S. solar industry, fueled by falling panel prices, will outpace employment in wind energy, which faces the looming expiration of a federal credit, according to a report from CleanEdison Inc.

CleanEdison expects about 36,600 people will be certified as technical employees in the U.S. solar industry in 2020, including positions such as installers, the New York-based provider of clean-energy training programs said today in a statement. That’s a 24 percent increase since 2010, compared with wind jobs, which are expected to grow 14 percent to 27,700.

Surging use of solar energy in the U.S is driving employment, said Avi Yashchin, CleanEdison’s chief executive officer. U.S. developers may install as much as 3.9 gigawatts of panels next year, up from a forecasted 2.9 gigawatts to 3.3 gigawatts this year, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. That’s creating employment opportunities in a variety of fields.

“I see electricians going into the solar market, structural steel companies going into constructing solar mounting systems,” Yashchin said in an interview. “If you have a lot of unemployed people looking for labor-intensive jobs, solar is great.”

Solar developers such as SolarCity Corp., which filed this month to raise more than $200 million in an initial public offering, are benefiting from cheap panels. Prices have dropped 29 percent in the past year.

Wind Contracting

That contrasts with the wind industry, which is contracting, according to the American Wind Energy Association. There have been 3,000 U.S. wind employees fired this year, mostly in manufacturing. Demand for turbines is slowing before the Dec. 31 expiration of the Production Tax Credit, which provides 2.2 cents a kilowatt-hour for electricity generated by wind and other renewable sources.

Turbine installations next year in the U.S. are expected to fall as much as 88 percent to as low as 1.5 gigawatts next year if the credit isn’t extended, according to New Energy Finance.

Job seekers are shifting their efforts to solar from wind, which isn’t “growing as fast as people wanted it to,” said Michael Connolly, who was hired in September as director of residential sales for the Rockville, Maryland-based solar installer Standard Solar Inc.

“I think solar will have a bigger impact,” he said. Connolly was previously director of sales in Boston for Constellation Energy Group Inc., which was acquired in March by Exelon Corp.

Copyright 2012 Bloomberg

Lead image: Windy grass via Shutterstock

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