National Solar Jobs Census 2011: A Review of the U.S. Solar Workforce

Released by: Environment America

Executive Summary

The National Solar Jobs Census 2011 updates last year’s census of employment and annual projected growth in the United States solar industry with new data from a statistically valid sampling of employers throughout the nation.  The rapid pace of change in the industry has warranted annual updates that examine the size and scope of the industry. 

The Solar Foundation™, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, non-lobbying organization promoting solar through research and education, recognized this gap and worked with BW Research Partnership’s Green LMI Division, Cornell University, and others to bring this important information to the foreground.  This report represents an unprecedented effort to understand the solar industry’s labor market conditions and potential for growth. 

U.S. solar companies added jobs over the last 12 months at a pace much faster than the general economy and remain highly optimistic regarding their overall revenue growth in the near term.  Specifically, as of August 2011, the U.S. solar industry employs an estimated 100,237 solar workers—defined as those workers who spend at least 50% of their time supporting solar-related activities—up 6.8% since August 2010.  Over the next 12 months, almost 50% of solar firms expect to add jobs while only 2.6% expect to cut workers.  This finding is especially relevant given that the overall expected 12-month growth rate for the entire U.S. economy is only about 1.4%. 

By comparing the job growth expectations from our multi-year research effort and from existing secondary sources, we can draw several important conclusions. 

As of August 2011: 

  • There are 100,237 solar workers in the United States, up from 93,000 last year.  This represents an overall growth rate of 6.8% over the past year, nearly 10 times higher than the national average employment growth rate of 0.7% 
  • Solar job growth over the next 12 months is anticipated to be almost 24%, representing approximately 24,000 additional new jobs.  Nearly half of all solar firms expect to add solar employees over the next 12 months. 
  • Employers from all of the studied solar subsectors expect significant employment growth over the next 12 months. 
  • Nearly half of installation firms expect to be hiring in the next year, and these firms expect to add 13,068 jobs over the next year (25% growth rate). 
  • Almost 44% of manufacturing firms expect to add jobs over the next year, with 3,473 jobs expected to be created during that time (14% growth rate). 
  • More than 45% of sales and distribution firms expect to add jobs over the next year, creating 6,188 jobs (35% growth rate). 
  • A quarter of utility respondents surveyed in 2010 were expecting to hire additional renewable energy workers through 2012, with employment growth projections ranging from 10 to 19 percent. 

These findings clearly illustrate that the solar industry is a strong and growing cluster that is responsible for thousands of jobs across every state in the nation.  The unprecedented growth of the industry is providing much needed job creation despite an historic economic and workforce downturn.  The optimism of solar employers in the midst of these conditions suggests that job growth will continue for years to come.