The nation’s first solar jobs census was released earlier this October, projecting a 26 percent solar job growth rate by this time next year. Based on input from 2,500 companies, the researchers found that there are currently about 93,500 solar workers in the U.S.
The Solar Foundation — a non-profit organization that funds solar research — Green LMI Consulting and Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor relations produced the census.
The expected 26 percent growth rate is much higher than that of the U.S. economy, which is expected to grow two percent over the same period. According to the census, it is the first to attempt to quantify the current growth of the U.S. solar industry.
To measure fully all aspects of the industry, the solar jobs were divided into three categories: installation, manufacturing and wholesale trade. Solar workers were defined as workers who spend at least 50 percent of their time supporting solar related activities.
Prof. John Bunge, industrial and labor relations, led the research team that produced the census. According to Bunge, Cornell’s role in the project was to advise the Solar Foundation on research methods.
“Typically, to get growth statistics, you look at years of data. We didn’t have that data because we were creating the first,” Bunge said.
Bunge pointed out that although the solar sector is a small part of the current economy, its rapid growth rate would continue to create new jobs. Contrary to the fact that many people equate solar energy with states that receive a large portion of sunshine, solar jobs can be found in all 50 states.
Ithaca itself is home to several renewable energy companies. Renovus is one such company, specializing in designing and building solar electric, solar thermal, wind energy and microhydro — or relatively small hydroelectric — systems.
According to Bunge, the solar jobs will continue to increase in the coming years.
“This is the first time any data has been collected on labor force and solar energy. That’s what makes it a striking study,” Bunge said. “Although the absolute numbers aren’t huge, compared to the rest of the economy, it is amazing. It surprised a lot of people and it won’t stop there.”