Solar Energy Jobs Declined During the Pandemic, But Experts See A Spike Ahead

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U.S. solar industry jobs declined by 6.7% in 2020, says a new report published by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and non-profit organizations The Solar Foundation and the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC), in conjunction with BW Research. The U.S solar industry employed 231,474 workers last year due to a combination of pandemic restrictions and increased labor productivity, according to the report.

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However, the organization is predicting growth over the next several years, as the industry must add approximately four times the number of workers to achieve President Joe Biden’s 2035 clean energy target, a press release issued by SEIA stated.

Rising Productivity, Rapid Growth

The study showed that the solar job reduction affected all states nearly evenly, but may recover at different rates, as many companies have still not reached pre-pandemic employment levels as they begin the process of re-staffing.

Labor productivity also increased across solar market segments, further contributing to the decrease in jobs. Productivity rose 19% for residential solar, 2% for non-residential solar and 32% for utility scale solar.

Even as productivity continues to rise, SEIA predicts that the industry will need 900,000 solar workers to achieve Biden’s clean energy target. The president is pushing for a zero carbon footprint for the energy sector by 2035 and to completely decarbonize the U.S. economy by 2050, Reuters reported.

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“The solar industry continues to support hundreds of thousands of jobs across all 50 states, and even during a pandemic, our companies largely were able to keep workers on the job,” Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of SEIA, conveyed in a press release. “We now have an opportunity to quadruple our workforce, adding diversity and supporting underserved communities by taking policy steps that incentivize solar and storage deployment and provide long-term certainty for solar businesses.”

Best Jobs for Solar Moving Forward

Installation and construction related jobs represent 67% of all solar industry careers, while manufacturing jobs account for 14%. Jobs in sales and distribution represented 11%, while operations and maintenance represented just 4%, with another 4% of solar workers in the fields of finance, legal, research and communications.

This breakdown corresponds with a recent study from research firm Chmura, showing a rise in manufacturing jobs across industries in the U.S.

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