Washington, D.C., United States – With roughly 93,500 direct and indirect jobs, the American solar industry now employs about 9,200 more workers than the U.S. steel production sector, according to 2010 Bureau of Labor Statistics. The American steel industry has historically been a symbol of the country's industrial might and economic prosperity. But today, the solar industry has the potential to overtake that image as we build a new, clean-energy economy.
Last week, Germany’s economic development agency announced similarly big news: There are now more than 100,000 workers employed in the German solar PV industry alone. Why is that so significant? The U.S. figures take into account solar jobs in PV, solar hot water and concentrating solar power; Germany is only factoring in solar PV.
And as a reader over at Clean Technica observed: “The US has about 312 million people while Germany has 82 million, about 25% as many people…. That makes the German solar industry more than four times as large an employer than US steel based on country size.”
A couple words of caution: These figures are comparing solar manufacturing, sales and installation to steel production alone. If one were to factor in products made from steel, the industry would be up around 160,000 workers.
With that said, the solar industry is just getting started here in America. Solar is a high-growth industry with the potential to create millions more jobs in a diverse range of sectors; while still an extraordinarily important industry, steel is not.
Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, explains the significance:
Whether it is construction contractors, plumbers, electricians, assembly-line workers or even lawyers and accountants, solar is creating new opportunities at a time when so many Americans are looking for some good news on the job front. In just three short years, the solar industry has grown from a small start-up to an industry that now employs more Americans than U.S. steel production.
Yet, even with such a big milestone for the U.S. economy, political leaders like Louisiana Representative John Fleming are questioning the “so-called green jobs that we’re yet to see produced.”
The bigger question for Mr. Fleming and other doubters is: Which curve do you want to place your bets on?
The continued growth in U.S. solar?
Or the uncertain future for U.S. steel? (The black line represents the U.S. and the red line is China.) Sadly, without leadership on a long-term renewable energy policy, the split between America and China below may just play out in the solar industry as well.
This article was originally published by Climate Progress and was reprinted with permission.