The Solar Foundation, the charitable research and education division of the solar trade group Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), has released a new solar market census that shows the solar workforce growing.
According to the "National Solar Jobs Census 2011: A Review of the U.S. Solar Workforce" from August 2010 to August 2011 jobs in the U.S. solar sector grew 6.8 percent from 93,502 to 100,237. With 25,575 solar industry workers, California continues to lead nation employing almost five times more than second place Colorado (6,186). Solar Foundation called U.S. solar jobs a "bright spot in a dim economy". The non-profit organization says while fossil fuel electric generation employment dropped 2 percent, solar jobs grew nearly seven times more than the overall U.S economy which rose just .7 percent.
The census' most glaring highlight however is what it projects for 2012. In the next 12 months the report anticipates solar jobs to grow 24 percent adding nearly 24,000 new jobs. Jobs in solar installation alone are expected to climb by 13,068. Considering a report released last week by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) which shows that global investment in clean energy rose 16 percent in the third quarter of 2011 these projections may close. The BNEF report said the $1.6 billion financing of the High Plains Ranch II and III PV was the largest solar financing in the world over the last three months.
Based on its research the Solar Foundation made recommendations to ensure continued rapid growth in the US solar market including a call for policymakers to "develop incentives that increase the adoption of solar for consumers and businesses and promote rules that create a fair competitive environment for solar energy relative to fossil fuel projects."
One major federal renewable energy incentive that has impacted the this rapid growth in the solar industry is nearing its end. The U.S. Treasury cash grant program “Section 1603″ is set to expire at the end of the year. As a provision of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, 1603 provides a cash grant to renewable energy developers equal to 30% of initial investment in lieu of a tax credit. Last week, SEIA released a report it had conducted by EuPD Research concerning the effects of extending 1603.
EuPD said that a one-year extension of 1603 would generate 37,000 jobs in 2012 and result in 2,000 MW of additional solar power. The report also shows that if the program were extended five years 114,00 jobs would be added in 2015 and 7,300 MW of additional solar generation capacity would be added to the grid from 2012-2016. EuPD noted that while "an extension would benefit all sectors of the solar industry, utility-scale solar development would see some of the longest lasting impacts due to the long project development process.
The 1603 program was originally slated to expire at the end of 2010 but at the last minute Congress voted for a one-year extension. With the turmoil surrounding the bankruptcy of government backed Solyndra and the cusp of a federal election year the likelihood of another last minute extension seems unlikely.
Image Credit: OregonDOT via Flickr.
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