The Solar Foundation released its 2014 State Solar Jobs Census yesterday demonstrating that solar energy is still one of the fastest growing industries in the US, which is good news for our economy and the environment.
California ranks number one, with 54,700 jobs in solar installation, manufacturing, sales and distribution. Massachusetts came in second with 9,400 jobs. The booming solar industry — which now employs nearly 175,000 Americans nationwide — is not strictly a blue state phenomenon, however. Arizona came in a close third with 9,200 jobs.
The solar industry’s growth isn’t bound by geography, either.
“Big gains in employment are no longer limited to solar-friendly California and the sunny Southwest,” Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), said in a statement. “Employment is also booming in East Coast states, including Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina and Maryland, while significantly growing in the southern states of Texas, Georgia and Florida.”
In other words, with solar making big gains in red states and blue states alike last year, the mainstreaming of renewable energy continues apace.
The environmental benefits of solar energy are obvious. There is an estimated 20 gigawatts (GW) of solar capacity installed in the US, which is enough to power 4 million homes. This helped offset 20 million metric tons of CO2 emissions in 2014, roughly equivalent to the amount of emissions from burning 2.1 billion gallons of gas, according to the SEIA.
What is not discussed as often is how beneficial solar is to the economy. The solar industry employs twice as many Americans as the coal industry and generates $15 billion in economic benefits, for instance.
A recent study by NC Clean Energy found that “in 46 of America’s 50 largest cities, a fully-financed, typically-sized solar PV system is a better investment than the stock market, and in 42 of these cities, the same system already costs less than energy from a residential customer’s local utility.”
The price of a solar photovoltaic system has dropped by more than half since 2010, helping more than 600,000 homes and businesses to go solar, generating 7,850 megawatts (MW) of power. Meanwhile, solar heating and cooling systems are helping Americans save so much on utility bills that they’re paying for themselves in just three to six years.
If solar’s growth to date sounds impressive, Resch says “we’re just scratching the surface of our enormous potential.”
Corporate America certainly seems to see the potential. The top 25 corporate solar users — companies like Ikea, Costco, and Apple — have installed nearly 570 MW of solar capacity.
In fact, Apple, which already has 4 solar installations with the capacity for 41 MW of energy output, just announced it is investing $850 million in a 2,900-acre solar farm that will power its headquarters and a data center, all of its California-based retail stores, and 60,000 homes.
In total, expect to see another 20 GW of installed solar capacity through 2016, according to the SEIA.
Image Credit: Elena Elisseeva / Shutterstock.com