California hits 100,000 solar jobs as industry grows at record pace
he American solar industry now employs more than a quarter of a million people, after a breakneck year that saw employment grow by a record 25 percent — and that growth is expected to continue into 2017, as low-cost solar panels nudge coal and natural gas out of the electricity marketplace.
California led the country with 100,050 solar jobs in 2016, according to a report released Tuesday by the nonprofit Solar Foundation. That was up from about 75,600 solar jobs in 2015. Nationwide, the group found, the solar workforce grew from 209,000 in 2015 to more than 260,000 last year — the fastest growth the Solar Foundation has seen in the seven years it’s been publishing this data.
“The solar industry currently has more (U.S.) workers than Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon combined,” said Andrea Luecke, the Solar Foundation’s executive director.
The group’s report includes plenty more statistics showing the industry’s remarkable growth:
Between November 2015 and November 2016, one in every 50 new jobs in the United States was created by the solar industry
The solar industry added workers 17 times faster than the overall economy over that time frame
There are now nearly three times as many people working in the solar industry as there were in 2010
Perhaps even more striking is a report released last month by the federal Department of Energy, comparing employment across different energy sectors. Using slightly different statistics than the Solar Foundation, the department found that the solar industry employs more people than coal, natural gas and wind. Among energy sectors, only oil and petroleum employs more people than solar.
“These are well-paying jobs, these are family-sustaining jobs. And many positions have a low barrier to entry — you don’t have to have a bachelor’s education,” Luecke said. “It really does represent an opportunity for Americans in rural areas, and urban areas on the coast, and in the center of the country.”
Here in the desert, sprawling fields of solar panels and smaller rooftop systems have both contributed to the industry’s rapid growth.
Two large-scale solar farms opened in Riverside County in 2016: NextEra’s Blythe and McCoy projects, near the Arizona border, which generate enough clean energy to power 181,000 homes and employed a combined 1,500 people at the height of construction. Several other big solar farms are being developed in the eastern part of the county, although they haven’t yet reached construction.
In the Coachella Valley, rooftop solar installers keep adding employees.
Vincent Battaglia, chief executive of the Palm Desert-based Renova Solar, said his company added 23 employees last year, putting its workforce above 150. Nate Otto, president of Palm Springs-based Hot Purple Energy, said his company grew its workforce by 10 percent in 2016, and now employs about 35 people. Planet Solar, which is based in Santa Barbara and has an office in Palm Desert, grew its staff by 10 percent statewide, according to Jill Weiss, a regional sales consultant at the local office.
“Solar’s been growing every year, and we expect that to continue as people realize the economic value of solar,” Weiss said. “The first wave of solar installations was almost 10 years ago here in the Coachella Valley. We’ve got 10 years of data now, and people are really seeing the results of their neighbors and other people in their communities going solar. It’s becoming mainstream.”