When it comes to driving the development of renewable energy technology, no greater facilitating force exists than the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD). Acting on a mandate to achieve 25 percent reliability on renewable energy by the year 2025, the DOD has been busy in its aggressive pursuit of that goal — proving that more often than not, great things can result from unlikely alliances.

The Trickle-Down Job Effect

In a recent report issued jointly by The Solar Foundation and Operation Free, it was revealed that U.S. military veterans may be in the best position to benefit from the DOD’s deepening investments in solar technology. A first of its kind report, Veterans in Solar: Securing America’s Energy Future discovered that the percentage of veterans employed by the solar industry exceeds the percentage of veterans employed in other sectors of the economy.

The U.S. solar industry — which has experienced a 20 percent spike in job numbers from last year — currently employs close to 143,000 individuals. Nearly 10 percent of those employed in the solar sector are military veterans. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, veterans make up only 7.6 percent of the overall U.S. workforce.

Andrea Luecke, President and Executive Director of The Solar Foundation, sees this as a beacon of hope for returning servicemen and women who typically face high levels of unemployment after their service has come to an end. Presently, 16 percent of all veterans aged 18 to 24 are unemployed, compared to 11 percent of nonveterans in the same age group.

Luecke attributes the significantly higher rate of veteran employment in solar to a combination of strong work ethic and the exposure many get to the technology while deployed. “The type of training our armed service members receive is pretty rigorous,” Luecke said. “It’s not just boot camp, it’s also tactical and technical training. I think that’s really helping to pave the way for a lot of returned veterans to find work in the solar industry. Even those who don’t have hands-on experience develop the kinds of transferable skills required by many occupations along the solar supply chain.”

While the bulk of the jobs veterans occupy in solar are comprised of installation and manufacturing positions (39 percent and 27 percent, respectively), Luecke said the overall data points to opportunities for veterans to earn a higher wage while receiving invaluable work experience. “We found that solar installers make, on average, $23 to $24 per hour,” Luecke said. “In general, these jobs are very high skilled and very well paying jobs.”

The report also found job opportunities for veterans in solar poised to grow, with 62 percent of solar companies polled indicating they plan to hire new positions in the coming year. Only two percent said they plan to reduce their workforce.

Luecke said The Solar Foundation and Operation Free have plans to develop methods by which veteran employment in the solar industry will be encouraged to grow. “We want to work with companies on creating incentive packages for employing more veterans,” Luecke said. “We also want to work with companies on helping them better identify transferable skills when they see them on a veteran’s resume.”