Written by Danny Kennedy, Founder of Sungevity
As election season begins to go into full swing, each candidate is making their case on how they plan to turn the economy around during their time in office. One noteworthy sector has seemed to be left out of the conversation completely, yet it is of the biggest success stories of recent history; what I called “Hot Jobs” in my book “Rooftop Revolution: How Solar Power Can Save our Economy – and Our Planet – from Dirty Energy”. With all the attention the media gave to the failure of Solyndra (the US solar manufacturer that failed as a result of the price of solar panels coming down), most Americans missed a much more important phenomenon at that time:
The solar industry created jobs almost ten times faster than the national average.
Here are some statistics that illustrate the reality of this employment engine:
- From 2010 to 2012, the solar industry doubled, making it one of the fastest-growing sectors in the economy.
- More than 100,000 Americans now work in the industry — twice as many as in 2009 and almost twice the number of Americans working in coal mines.
- These Americans are staffing the approximately 5,600 solar companies that now exist in the United States, most of which are small businesses, where most of the growth in employment occurs in the economy — not in the big businesses of corporate America.
- What’s more, these businesses now exist in all 50 states.
And we’ve even been doing well in the global game. The United States was a net exporter of solar products in 2010, the last year for which we have numbers, and we’re likely to see that this trend continued in 2011. In 2010 we had a net surplus of $2 billion in solar products traded globally. We were even a net exporter to China, the world’s solar giant, by more than $240 million. Solar energy is a global industry that benefits from open and fair markets, and the bottom line is that trade in solar products has been good for the United States by expanding export opportunities for domestic manufacturers, creating jobs and driving down costs to consumers, which makes the product all the more accessible.
Interestingly enough, most jobs in the solar industry are not even in manufacturing but in the sale, marketing, financing and installation of these products, so the lower the manufacturing cost are, the more demand there will be for jobs in these other areas. There’s a risk that our momentum will be lost, and many jobs with it, because of weak leadership, backward politics and the repression of this trend by the vested interests that oppose it — especially coal, nuclear, and gas-fired-electricity companies — so we have to demand that our leaders stay on the right path.
The Internet sector has had its failures (think Netscape, Webvan and Pets.com), but let’s not forget the myriad other Internet companies that have revolutionized the way we live. Solar manufacturing will continue to grow in the United States if the market-supporting policies for the deployment of its products are maintained. Global manufacturing companies, like GE and Kyocera, want to build their factories to be close to distribution channels in what many analysts expect will be the largest solar market in a few years, and this will become increasingly true as the cost of transport becomes a larger portion of the cost structure of the total solar solution. As the form factor of solar panels and other photovoltaic products changes, tapping the power of the sun in creative ways will give our workers a lot to do.
It’s important to note how many jobs this “Rooftop Revolution” portends compared with those dependent on what I call King CONG (Coal, Oil, Nuclear, and Gas). Despite a lack of sustained government support in the past decade, the overall advanced-energy economy — including wind, energy efficiency (like insulation and weather stripping) and solar — has added more than 770,000 jobs. By comparison the 100-year-old fossil-fuel sector — including utilities, coal mining and oil and gas extraction (all industries that have received significant government subsidy) — had about 1.27 million workers in 2007, when this analysis was made. The numbers have probably changed a bit in the past five years but to clean energy’s advantage, as oil and coal have shed jobs across America and our industry has grown. In other words, for all the history and the profits of King CONG’s companies, they employ fewer than twice as many people as the clean-energy industry. The shift is under way, and it’s going to be huge!
Remember that the bulk of the solar workforce will be outside the factory gates. As the solar industry grows, most of the direct employment is taking place in companies that market, sell, finance, install and service solar installations. And the growth will continue if the positive energy policies needed to support it are maintained by the governments regulating electricity — especially our right to sell into the grid and the right incentives for solar’s deployment.
There’s not enough room in this short post to detail all the reasons these facts haven’t been brought to the public’s attention in the recent political commentary. But, if they’re not going to talk about it, then it’s our job to do so. Join the Rooftop Revolution and take action today to fix our economy, environment and energy security.
Here are some ideas of things you can do today:
-Be a worker for the Rooftop Revolution by joining the solar workforce. Visit www.solarworksforamerica.org and other such sites, such as www.solarjobs.us, where you can explore employment opportunities.
-Support The Solar Foundation (www.thesolarfoundation.org), a nonprofit organization that demonstrates the global benefits of solar energy and issues the annual National Solar Jobs Census.
-If you work for a larger company, be a solar intra-preneur by urging your employer to get involved in the Solar Ascent.
-Partner with co-workers to fund a community solar project at www.solarmosaic.com.
Sungevity’s online iQuote process and solar lease program make it easy and affordable for homeowners to benefit from solar power. Leveraging web-based solar analytics and satellite imagery, Sungevity can deliver a firm quote without a home visit and provide homeowners with immediate savings on their electricity bills. This affordability and ease of use, combined with Sungevity’s solar social network strategy, is all part of Sungevity’s mission to accelerate solar into the mainstream. Aligned with Sungevity’s mission and values, the company is recognized as a B Corp, a new type of corporation that harnesses the power of private enterprise to create public benefit for all stakeholders, not just shareholders. Sungevity was recognized by B Corp as one of the “Best for the World” companies for using the power of business to solve social and environmental problems. For more information, visit www.sungevity.com.