U.S. Solar industry rebounds to almost 250,000 workers in 2019

solar jobsThe 10th annual National Solar Jobs Census for the United States was released by the non-profit Solar Foundation in mid-February. It reports  a resurgence in solar industry employment in 2019, following two years of job losses in 2017 and 2018.  The report states that 249,983 U.S. workers  spent the majority of their time in solar-related activities in 2019, and an additional 94,549 workers spent some portion of their time on solar-related work, for a total of 344,532 workers. The full Report is downloadable (with free registration) from this link ,  with a summary here.  It provides state-by-state statistics re job totals and sectors within the solar industry, and profiles the solar industry in California (where the Title 24 mandate went into effect in 2019, requiring all new residential homes to be built with solar PV), and the South-east U.S. The report also forecasts future trends, and  provides discussions of demographics and workforce development, reporting that a majority of employers have difficulty recruiting and hiring. (Through its Solar Training Network, the Solar Foundation published Strategies for Solar Workforce Development: A Toolkit for the Solar Industry  in 2018).

Some highlights from the 2019 National Solar Census:

  • About the industry: Approximately 93%  of U.S. solar establishments work in solar PV electricity generation. 16% of firms work on solar heating and cooling, (e.g. solar water heaters); 7% work on projects related to concentrating solar power (CSP).
  • About the demographics: Diversity remains almost the same as in 2018: women represented 26% of the solar workforce, Latino or Hispanic workers represented 17%, Asian workers comprised 9%, and black or African American workers comprised 8%.
  • About wages: for entry-level unlicensed (non-electrician) solar installers the median wage was $16.00 (the U.S. national median wage for all occupations is $18.58). The median wage for entry-level licensed (electrician) installers was $20.00.
  • Wages for production workers start at $15.00 for entry-level employees, ( national median wage for production workers is $16.85). Wages reached $36.50 for senior-level production employees.

Women and minorities still at a disadvantage in U.S. solar industry

solar industry 2019 diversity infographicThe U.S. Solar Industry Diversity Study 2019  was released by The Solar Foundation ,  in partnership with the Solar Energy Industries Association on May 6, reflecting  a growing  industry awareness of the need to promote inclusion. The 2019 study is based on survey responses from 377 employers and 398 employees in the winter of 2018, and reports on  job satisfaction, career paths and progression, and wages.

Some highlights: 

  • Among the senior executives reported in the survey, 88% are white and 80% are men.
  • Three of the top five recruitment methods rely on professional and personal networks – putting minority applicants at a disadvantage to be hired  (Only 28% of Hispanic , Latino, and African American  respondents reported that they found their jobs through a referral or by word of mouth, compared to 44% of white respondents).
  • There is a 26% gender wage gap across all position levels. 37% of men earn in the range of $31 to $74 per hour, compared to only 28% of women.  The median wage reported for men was $29.19, and for women it was only $21.62.

The full report is available here (registration required). This is the second Diversity Report, but the first, in 2017, is no longer available online. An accompanying  Best Practices Guide  is a brief guide aimed at HR managers to encourage diversity and inclusion programs.  A summary  of the report appears in Think Progress .

Other reports which confirm the need for more diversity in the solar industry: 

Solar Empowers Some  (February 2019)  focused on the state of diversity and inclusion in Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Advancing inclusion through clean energy jobs  (April 2019)  by the Brookings Institution goes beyond just the solar industry to include all clean energy and energy efficiency occupations. It reports that fewer than 20 percent of workers are women, and less than 10 percent are black, confirming that the clean energy economy workforce is older, dominated by male workers, and lacks racial diversity compared to all occupations nationally.  This report, importantly, also documents skills and educational requirements, and is written in the context of labour market issues for a transition to a clean economy.

We have little comparable research in Canada. As reported in the WCR  previously,  Bipasha Baruah at Western University in London researches the gender issue in the renewable energy industry, and in 2016 presented a report,  Creating and Optimizing Employment Opportunities for Women in the Clean Energy Sector in Canada, at Imagining Canada’s Future, an SSHRC Knowledge Synthesis Symposium at the University of Calgary.

U.S. energy employment report shows job growth in oil and gas, energy efficiency; decline in solar jobs

US energy jobs report 2019The U.S. Energy and Employment Report 2019 edition  (USEER) was released by the National Association of State Energy Officials and the think tank Energy Futures Initiative on March 6 , providing  detailed statistics about the energy workforce and the industrial sectors in which they work.  The 2019 USEER reports on the “Traditional Energy Sector” (composed of fuels; electric power generation; and electric power transmission, distribution and storage) as well as the energy efficiency sector. Those four sectors combined to employ approximately 6.7 million Americans, or 4.6 percent of the  workforce, with an employment growth rate of almost 7 percent in 2018, outpacing the economy as a whole.  The report also includes statistics on the motor vehicle and parts industry, (excluding automobile dealerships and retailers) – which grew at a rate of 3%, employing over 2.53 million workers. Of these, almost 254,000 employees worked with alternative fuels vehicles, including natural gas, hybrids, plug-in hybrids, all-electric, and fuel cell/hydrogen vehicles, an increase of nearly 34,000 jobs.

Noteworthy trends:  the number of jobs in solar decreased by 4.2% in 2018 (the latest Solar Foundation Census reported a decrease of  3.2% for 2017- 2018);  Oil and natural gas employers added the most new jobs in the fuel sector, nearly 51,000, most of which were in  mining and extraction; the energy efficiency sector  produced the most new jobs of any energy sector—over 76,000—with 2,324,866 jobs in total, and an anticipated growth rate of approximately 8%.

This is the second edition of the USEER Report to be published by the National Association of State Energy Officials and Energy Futures Initiative, and as before, it uses same the survey instrument and underlying methodology as was used when the U.S. Department of Energy was responsible, so that data is compatible for year-over-year comparisons. The survey was administered to over 30,000 employers across 53 different energy technologies in late 2018.  Data shows:  Employment numbers and trends; Employer hiring expectations for the next 12 months; Hiring difficulty by technology and industrial classification; High demand jobs and skills gaps; Workforce demographics by race, ethnicity, gender, and veteran’s status; highly detailed geographic location by state, county, congressional and legislative districts. A separate report on energy wage data is scheduled for release later in 2019.  Reports are available in several formats:   a  Full Report, Executive Summary, and reports by State, as well as individual sections for Fuels; Electric Power Generation Transmission, Distribution, and Storage; Energy Efficiency; and Motor Vehicles & Component Parts.

Growth and diversity in the U.S.clean energy industry

Two new reports foresee employment growth in the U.S. renewable energy industry – despite the chilling effect of the tariffs on solar equipment imposed  by the Trump administration, as described in a Solar Energy Industry Association press release in December.   The first study, Clean Energy sweeps across rural America  (November 2018) by the Natural Resources Defence Council examines job growth in wind, solar, and energy efficiency in rural regions throughout the Midwest U.S., and finds that the number of clean energy jobs grew by 6 percent from 2015 to 2016 (a higher rate than the economic in general), to a total of  nearly 160,000 in 2017.  In 2017, in the rural parts of every midwestern state except North Dakota and Kansas, more people worked in clean energy than in the entire fossil fuel industry.  The report emphasizes the outsized impact of job opportunities in rural areas in which job growth is normally negligible or even negative. The report also profiles examples of  community solar programs operated by co-ops and investor-owned utilities.

A second report  models the impact of  replacing Colorado’s coal plants with a mix of wind and solar backed by battery storage and natural gas.  This report was prepared by consultants Vibrant Clean Energy and commissioned by energy developer Community Energy Inc., with a main focus on cost savings and carbon emissions.  However, it also forecasts job impacts under three scenarios (keeping coal plants to 2040, gradually retiring coal plants, and retiring all coal plants in 2025), and overall,  it forecasts a 52% increase in employment in the electricity industry.

The January 9 press release  quotes a representative from Community Energy Inc:  “The key to unlocking these benefits is to create a legal framework that enables utilities to voluntarily retire the coal plants. Otherwise, it could take years to negotiate or litigate utility cost recovery, replacement power costs and impact on local communities.” The full Coal Plant Retirement study is here .

Finally, the Solar Energy Industries Association issued a press release in early December, highlighting its 2018 initiatives to improve gender equity and diversity – including the creation of the Women’s Empowerment Initiative, which includes summits to increase women’s leadership and various industry opportunities.  In September 2018,  the SEIA signed a Memorandum of Understanding  to help the solar industry recruit and employ more students from the 101 Historically Black Colleges and Universities.  This will include hosting a national jobs fair, individual jobs fairs at the HBCU schools and bringing solar companies to campuses for recruitment.   A webinar series on diversity and inclusion is scheduled for SEIA member companies in 2019.

Global Renewable Energy industry lacks human rights and labour rights protections

Renewable energy BHRRC cover part 2London-based Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) released a new report on September 5th : Renewable Energy Risking Rights & Returns: An analysis of solar, bioenergy & geothermal companies’ human rights commitments  . The report analyses 59 companies’ human rights policies and practices on five key areas: human rights commitment, community consultations, grievance mechanisms, labour rights and supply chain monitoring. It concludes that  “The current level of commitment by the majority of renewable energy companies is insufficient to prevent, address and mitigate human rights harms, especially as the sector rapidly expands.”

Concerning labour rights, only 36% of renewable energy companies were found to have policies committing them to core labour rights such as collective bargaining and freedom of association, 42% commit to  the prohibition of child labour and 41% to prohibition of  forced labour and modern slavery.  An aspect with resonance for Canadians, in light of the recent federal Court of Appeal decision against the Trans Mountain Pipeline, the report found that “less than 30% (17 out of 59) of renewable energy companies have a stated commitment to consultation with communities affected by their projects. Only 8 companies reference indigenous peoples’ rights and 4 companies have a commitment to free, prior and informed consent of indigenous communities.”  Overall,  47% of companies do not have basic human rights commitments or processes in place, and only 5 companies met a set of basic criteria on human rights, community consultation and access to remedy. These findings are consistent with a previous BHRRC  survey, reported in 2016.

Based  on its extensive research of the mining industry, BHRRC also states that “failure to respect human rights can result in project delays, legal procedures and costs for renewable energy companies, underlying the urgency to strengthen human rights due diligence.”   It calls for investors to step up their engagement in renewable energy companies to ensure better respect for human rights.

Read the press release here  for a summary of the report, and explore ongoing monitoring of human rights in the renewable energy sector here.