119,000 Jobs Strong: The Solar Foundation Releases First-Ever Solar Industry Jobs Numbers for All 50 States

Andrea Luecke, Executive Director of The Solar Foundation

April 18th, 2013

Through our National Solar Jobs Census series and other labor market research efforts, we have been working hard to raise public awareness of the employment value of the solar industry. 

To this end, we are very proud to announce that our State Solar Jobs Map (www.solarstates.org) went live this morning. This interactive map provides the first-ever count of solar workers in each of the 50 states and includes individual state profiles containing figures on jobs as well as solar subsector ranks by employment, key solar policies, homes powered by solar, and a handful of other useful facts. Visitors can show their support for solar in their home state by sharing these profiles through social media and email.

Since I feel our map does such a great job telling each state’s story, I don’t want to reproduce the information it contains. What I would like to do in today’s blog post, however, is provide a little bit of analysis.

Key Takeaways

  • These are the first credible solar jobs numbers for all 50 states. Solar employs 119,000 people in every state in the nation, and employment grew 13.2% last year alone.
  • Solar is becoming more labor efficient, which will help to drive down the non-hardware cost of solar. This is not to say that as labor intensities go down that jobs will be lost, but rather they will shift to other areas of the industry. In 2012, it took one-third of the number of workers to install a megawatt of solar as it did in 2010. 
  • The numbers not only show us the importance of training in driving solar employment and job creation, but they also show us the importance of smart, consistent pro-business policies to further growth. 

Who’s in the Lead?

In 2012, the top ten states for solar jobs were: California, Arizona, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Colorado, New York, Texas, Michigan, and Ohio. Not surprisingly, the top three states for jobs are also the leaders in 2012 installed capacity, with a total of six of the top solar jobs states represented in the list of the top ten states for installed capacity (see table below). In comparing solar employment estimates from today’s release with previous state figures that examined solar jobs in only a few states (see National Solar Jobs Census 2010 and 2011), six states – California, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Texas, Colorado, and New York – are in the top ten for the third year in a row (though it is important to note that methodologies used to estimate each year’s figures differ).

Many of the highest-ranked solar jobs states are also those with the greatest cumulative installed capacity and the highest known public training funding. However, only AZ, PA and CA are in the top ten across all three categories.

Top Ten Solar Jobs States          

Top Ten Solar Capacity States 2012*      

Top Ten States for Public Workforce Funding**           

CaliforniaCaliforniaNew York
New JerseyNew JerseyTexas
MassachusettsNevadaNorth Carolina
PennsylvaniaNorth CarolinaPennsylvania
New YorkHawaiiArizona
OhioNew YorkUtah

*From GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Associations's U.S. Solar Market Insight Report

** From The Solar Foundation, SolarTech, and NABCEP's Financing the Next Generation of Solar Workers

Here are a few more notable results:

  • California continues to stand out among other states in many ways. It single-handedly accounts for nearly one-third of solar employment in the entire nation. The state has over four times as many jobs as Arizona, the #2 state.
  • Arizona saw a huge spike in solar employment (from 4,786 in 2011 to 9,800 this year), mostly due to the completion of a number of large utility-scale solar projects. Though California installed more solar than Arizona overall last year, Arizona had far more utility installations, which often rely on industrial and residential construction workers. Without the installation of such a large amount of utility-scale solar, these workers might otherwise be struggling to find employment in a depressed construction market.
  • Though Pennsylvania is still a top ten solar jobs state, it shed over 2,000 jobs in the last year. These struggles reflect deficiencies with the state’s SREC market. Pennsylvania is one of two remaining states that allow out-of-state solar energy systems to sell into its market, causing an oversupply of SRECs.
  • Per capita, solar energy is an even more important source of employment in Arizona and Hawaii than in California.

What’s Driving this Success?

Continued Price Declines

The state jobs figures included in the map both reflect and underscore what is known about solar employment at the national level. According to our National Solar Jobs Census 2012, 31% of employers indicated that component price declines were the greatest driver of company growth. The latest U.S. Solar Market Insight Report, published by GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association, shows that seven of the top ten solar jobs states (California, Arizona, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New York, and Ohio) all saw significant decreases in residential installed costs in 2012, with Arizona , New Jersey, Massachusetts, New York, and Ohio experiencing substantial declines in non-residential prices as well. 

Though price parity has only been achieved in certain places and under specific circumstances, we can see how the relationship between solar resource and electric rates is contributing to the success of the solar industry. For example, several top 10 solar jobs states (such as NY, MA, NJ) rank low in terms of solar resource, but higher than average retail electricity prices make the cost of solar more attractive to consumers. Conversely, some top solar jobs states with low electric rates (AZ, CO, TX) also have an abundant solar resource, helping to close the gap between the levelized cost of solar and retail prices.

Consistent and Effective State Solar Policies

The map also demonstrates what has already been made apparent by global solar leaders such as Germany – that an abundant solar resource is not necessarily a prerequisite for a strong solar market. Only four states ranked in the top ten in terms of maximum solar resource are also top ten solar employment states. The remaining states (New Jersey, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New York, Michigan, and Ohio) all rank in the bottom 30% in the nation in terms of available solar resource. What all of the top ten solar jobs states do have in common, however, is a collection of policy tools designed to support renewable energy in general and solar in particular.

With solar energy among the top new sources of electricity in the first quarter of 2013 – 100% of new utility-scale generation in March came from solar – we are eagerly looking forward to tracking this year’s employment figures. Stay tuned as we follow the growth of the solar industry, and if you find this kind of information helpful be sure to make a tax-deductible contribution to The Solar Foundation.