In the second post in the series about indicators and trends effecting the solar industry in 2016 and beyond, we think it is important to look at the current health of our corner of solar energy systems installations. A vibrant and growing collection of solar installers indicates a great historical endurance and an especially bright future. And as with any industry, the steady survivors earn their reputations and learn to adapt from experience. The progression of jobs and the expansion of support from organizations that facilitate without manufacturing nor installing are key signs of a healthy status and good news for all who participate or advocate for a more sustainable and controllable energy future.
As we noted in our first of this series, installed capacity and forecasted capacity growth are both positive indicators. The Investment Tax Credit (ITC) extension signed at the end of 2015 is expected to be a major catalyst for increasingly greater solar energy system capacity expansion. This boost will naturally help installers and financiers who have endured to date and have the right adaptive strategies to continue earning their reputations. New entrants and upstarts should be expected. Some of the existing bigger guys will get bigger, and some may get a lot bigger. Some of the smaller guys like YellowLite will grow, too. But companies like YellowLite will not forget their roots and will continue our dedication to individual service and solution-making.
A Quick Look at Jobs
The Solar Foundation (TSF), a non-profit solar research and education organization, produces an annual National Solar Jobs Census. The most recent, sixth annual edition summarizes current employment trends and projected growth of U.S. solar industry jobs. Overall, their survey found that the solar industry continues to outpace most other sectors of the economy, adding workers at a rate nearly 12 times faster than the overall economy and accounting for 1.2% of all jobs created in the US over the past year.
Some of the key highlights in our estimation are below:
The US solar installation sector employs 77% more people than the domestic coal mining industry. Since 2014, solar installation has created more jobs than oil and gas pipeline construction and crude petroleum and natural gas extraction combined.
It reflects a greater diversity than most industry sectors. Women and veterans are especially well represented, and minorities as a whole are better represented than in many industries.
Demand-side sectors, such as installation and sales, account for about 80% of overall solar industry employment. Approximately 57% of the workforce is employed by installation firms. Manufacturing comprises the second largest share at almost 15% of U.S. solar jobs.
Before the ITC extension was confirmed, TSF was projecting a growth of about 30,000 total solar industry jobs. Of those, almost 20,000 are expected within the solar energy system installer field.
2015 was the third consecutive year in which solar employment grew by approximately 20%. At 20.2%, the 2015 growth fell just short last year’s Census projected growth of 20.9%. As a comparison, growth in 2013 and 2014 exceeded the Census’s prior year’s projected growth.
Approximately 63% of the nearly 209,000 jobs are in the residential market segment. The TSF estimates 15% of the jobs are in the commercial segment and 22% are involved in utility-scale development. Utility-scale development has fewer workers per megawatt installed than residential so there are fewer utility-scale jobs despite the greater amount of utility MW installed.
There is a lot to be proud of here. Homeowners who choose to go solar and control their ever increasing electricity costs are responsible for a impressive employment trend.
A Quick Look at Other Factors
Upstream of manufacturing and installation, technology development has continued due to a combination of business drivers and public policy support. Advocacy groups and investment partnerships have come and gone to help in expediting the evolution of solar technology. Some important partnerships survive today. But we think it is significant that two complementary organizations have been recently announced, because they are geared to support the more risky investments that are harder for private enterprise to justify alone. Many public research programs are not willing to take high risks, either.
The Breakthrough Energy Coalition is a consortium led by some of the greater visionaries such as Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, which has been created to specifically augment the existing government energy research. They intend to improve upon the existing public-private partnerships by targeting the even more risky but potentially more rewarding research projects. They have committed $2 billion over five years to accelerate this global renewable energy research.
The Mission Innovation was born out of the most recent Paris Climate Conference, COP21. Basically, 20 countries so far have joined and agreed to target a doubling of the public energy research investment by 2020. It is the important public arm of the public-private effort of The Breakthrough Energy Coalition. The collaborative aim is to speed up the pace of innovation, cost reduction, and adoption of zero-carbon or near-zero-carbon technologies. A few of the most important goals established in their statement of principles are noteworthy:
The group aims to repeat the success of public investment in areas such as space programs, defense technologies, and medical research.
It recognizes the need to invest wisely, but not shy away from risk.
The role of private investment must be significant. Enter the relationship with The Breakthrough Energy Coalition.
Mission Innovation and the Breakthrough Energy Coalition aim to address known technology finance gaps. By pooling public funding and leveraging it with private sector capital, the goal is to quicken the transition to a low- and zero-carbon energy future.
As the renewable energy industry continues to evolve and adapt, every contribution and effort to succeed is important. The solar industry has been a prime focus for a few decades. Incentives have changed over time and continue to fluctuate. Technology has quickly improved, at times at a breakneck pace. But the easy work has been done regarding solar panel efficiency and overall solar energy system installation costs. But the outlook for 2016 looks just as bright as it was reported for the last 6 years by TSF. And new efforts collaborations have come along to help break the slowing in the evolution of technology. Homeowners have been a major factor in this history. And they will continue to be important for the future. At YellowLite we welcome the opportunity to demonstrate that our longevity was well earned and our future is just as bright as the whole industry forecast suggests.
Interested in learning more about YellowLite’s renewable energy solutions? Reach out to us today to learn more.