Workforce studies are produced to help design training curriculums, promote pro-renewable policies, and to capture market share by definining an industry as a subset of a particular trade.
But, lately it feels like studying renewable energy jobs is a faster growing industry than the industry being studied.
If you are looking for a job in renewables, you care about the actual number of job openings available, not so much the macro projections. For a great analysis of renewable energy workforce projections and how to read them see Putting Renewables to Work: How Many Jobs Can the Clean Energy industry Generate? by Dr. Kammen and his team at the Energy and Resources Group, UC Berkeley. ::continue::
Communities need solid employment projections for renewable industries to gauge where to invest and how to accelerate positive employment trends. Job seekers are interested in how big the opportunities are so they can decide how hard to focus their efforts toward one industry vs. another.
Here is a very unscientific, and yet I hope 'common sense' estimate of what's really happening in the U.S. flat-plate photovoltaic industry regarding employment. If anything, it underestimates what is really happening out there.
Measure by Revenue.
The applications for California Solar Initiative (CSI) incentives described approximately $54.5 miliion in revenue in January, from 713 online application submissions and 9,354kW of nameplate power.
If we assume the CSI is 85% of PV sales activity in Caifornia, and California represents 70% of PV sales in the U.S., and that on average the sales will be 50% higher during the year due to weather, the resulting projected annual revenue for the U.S., not including utility and federal government projects, is approximately $1.46billion in direct sales.
Using gross sales revenue to budget for staff is not uncommon in the remodeling industry. Let's estimate that every $100,000 in gross annual revenue supports one fulll-time-equivalent (FTE) annual job. By this gauge there are 14,689 FTE jobs in the downstream, "direct" PV solar industry. If we assume federal government and utility projects represent another 15% of revenue (very conservative) that brings employment to 16,892 direct PV jobs.
From these direct jobs let's use a very conservative "multiplier" of 3 to describe all the jobs feeding directly into the direct solar jobs. Indirect jobs include consultants, trainers, analysts, lawyers, agency staff, advocacy groups, utility staff, investors, writers, support services, etc. Because PV is so distributed, its multiplier is probably much higher.
Given these very conservative estimates, the current PV revenue rate is supporting 50,677 full time jobs at current (read: still in the economic downturn) solar spending.
If we grow revenue just 20% this year, that's another "new" 10,000 jobs - but with the full impact of the Stimulus bill and adding in the federal and utility PV installations, it seems more likely we'll have more than 20,000 new full-time PV jobs this year.
Measure by Job and Power installed.
You could run through these same numbers using number of systems installed, kW per system, and estimate the number of positions it takes to support each fully-employed installer. Figure each installer FTE is 2kW per week.
There are plenty of reasons my reasoning here may be wrong, and I can hear statisticians moaning. Mea culpa to be sure.
I've gone through the simple exercise in order to demonstrate my fervent wish that the next renewable energy workforce study shows their numbers and clearly describes their math. Heck, maybe even ties their projections to actual revenue and job opening data.
*data from CaliforniaSolarStatistics.ca.gov
Solar Industry Study California Centers of Excellence
Bureau of Economic Analysis (lists the Input-Output tables used to figure the multiplier for various jobs)
Solar Workforce Development - IREC Summary from 2008
Liz Merry owns Verve Solar Consulting, through which she teaches (Solar Industry Orientation (tm) and Solar Careers and Opportunities (tm)) seminars, writes solar business curriculum, and consults for new solar businesses. Liz's latest cool-solar-resources and opinions can be found at SolarToday.org/Liz and at VerveSol on Twitter.
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