Alternative energy, especially solar energy, has been growing rapidly as an in demand resource over the last decade. There have been several reasons that have driven this demand. First, the cost of installing solar panels has decreased dramatically. Since 2010, PV installed price estimates have declined by almost 56% for residential installations, and over 70% for both non-residential/commercial and utility-scale installations.1 These price decreases have increased the demand and therefore has made solar installation skills more valuable in today’s job market.
Additionally, solar energy has also become more of an accessible commodity as a result of the increase in community solar projects. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, community solar initiatives allow for multiple consumers to participate in and benefit from a solar project in their community. Participants in solar communities receive credits on their utility bill for their portion of the power produced on what is usually, public or jointly owned property. Community solar projects allow those who are unable to install their own solar panels due to living in a rented or shared building, having a heavily shaded roof, or are unable to afford the initial cost of the installation, access to solar energy.
This increased accessability presents myriad opportunities for employes. Especially for companies that employ a large number of electricians, HVAC technicians, plumbers, construction workers, or carpenters, upskilling employees with solar installation capabilities can diversify skillsets and expand opportunities for for their business to begin taking on solar projects.
As of 2017, the National Solar Job Census reported that 250,271 people are working in the solar industry and long-term trends show significant growth moving forward. In the last seven years alone, solar-related workforce has increased 168%.1 Although a few states faced job losses, 29 states saw significant job gains, especially in Utah, Minnesota, Arizona, Colorado, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Tennessee. 1 The states that showed job gains are places where the solar industry is just beginning to become more prevalent, a trend that will hopefully continue across the US.
A Solar Skills Gap
While solar energy has become tremendously more accessible, the solar job market has not followed quite as rapidly, leaving many employers in need of employees with solar installation and manufacturing skills. According to the 2017 Solar Job Census, 89% of employers reported that it was “somewhat” or “very difficult” to hire solar installers, with 52.5% reporting this difficulty stemmed from a “lack of experience or technical knowledge”. 1 These statistics are staggering given that the solar installation workforce has a low barrier to entry as most solar companies do not require a Bachelor’s degree. In fact, 79% of solar companies overall do not require a four-year college degree and 93% of solar installation companies do not require a four-year college degree. 1
These skills could become even more in-demand in the coming year. On January 18, 2018 the US Department of Energy announced a $3 million prize for the American Made Solar Prize competition. This competition is meant to “reenergize innovation in the US solar manufacturing” industry and encourages professionals to work together to develop solar manufacturing approaches. This competition could easily stimulate the solar market further, bringing an even greater need to the US job market for skilled workers in solar installation.
Recommended for You: What’s Next for US Manufacturing? Industry Leaders Weigh In
Sources: (1) National Solar Census