Solar market nearly doubles in 2016, industry boosts jobs 25%


SEIA’s Solar Data Cheat Sheet (click to enlarge)

The U.S. installed  14,626 megawatts (MW) of solar photovoltaic (PV) last year, up 95 percent from 2015 levels, according to  GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). As a result, the U.S. is now home to more than 1.3 million solar PV installations with a cumulative capacity of over 40 gigawatts. That’s 40 million kilowatts. A typical residential rooftop installation is 5 kW to 10 kW while commercial installs range from 10 kW to 50 kW on average.

For the first time ever, solar ranked as the No. 1 source of new electric generating capacity — it accounted for 39 percent of new capacity additions across all fuels. On average, a new megawatt of solar PV capacity came on-line every 32 minutes in Q3 2016. Tennessee ranked 25th among states for solar installed in Q3.

“It’s no surprise that more and more people, communities and businesses are going solar,” said Harvey Abouelata, ARiES Solar president. “Free, clean, renewable energy from the sun translates into immediate savings on your electric bill, predictable energy costs and offers a hedge against future price increases.”

Solar grew in all areas, but the biggest increase was seen in the utility-scale sector, which can be partly attributed to projects initiated due to doubts for the extension of the federal Investment Tax Credit, said report authors. The ITC offers businesses and consumers a 30 percent tax credit on renewable energy installs.

Utilities are becoming more interested in solar, which is now competitive with natural gas alternatives, said Cory Honeyman, GTM Research’s associate director of U.S. solar research. They are also often leaders in the booming  community solar movement, which added more than 200 MW of clean energy this year. Community solar is increasingly important as consumers who do not own their homes demand renewable energy options.

“What these numbers tell you is that the solar industry is a force to be reckoned with,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, SEIA’s president and CEO. “Solar’s economically-winning hand is generating strong growth across all market segments nationwide, leading to more than 260,000 Americans now employed in solar.”

A separate report, The Solar Foundation‘s seventh annual National Solar Jobs Census, found that the solar industry accounted for one in every 50 new jobs created in 2016. The solar workforce grew by 25 percent compared to 2015, the largest annual growth percentage since The Solar Foundation’s first National Solar Jobs Census was released in 2010.

Infographic: The Solar Foundation's 2016 Census (click to enlarge)

Infographic: The Solar Foundation’s 2016 Census (click to enlarge)

“With a near tripling of solar jobs since 2010, the solar industry is an American success story that has created hundreds of thousands of well-paying jobs,” said Andrea Luecke, President and Executive Director of The Solar Foundation. “In 2016, we saw a dramatic increase in the solar workforce across the nation, thanks to a rapid decrease in the cost of solar panels and unprecedented consumer demand for solar installations. More than ever, it’s clear that solar energy is a low-cost, reliable, super-abundant American energy source that is driving economic growth, strengthening businesses, and making our cities smarter and more resilient.”

Solar industry employment growth outpaced the overall U.S. economy by 17 times as it increased by over 512,000 jobs, for a total of 260,077 U.S. solar workers. The state with the highest total number of solar jobs in 2016 was California, followed by Massachusetts, Texas, Nevada, and Florida. Several states in the Southeast did very well. South Carolina, for example, increased solar employment by 57 percent, for a total of 2,772 workers.

Tennessee was one of a handful of states where jobs did not increase, but ARiES is bucking that trend! We’ve grown from 11 employees in January 2016 to 18 today and expanded outside our home state for the first time.  We’re also proud of our track record on employee diversity, hiring veterans and encouraging women to take leadership positions in the solar industry.

Nine percent of solar workers nationwide are veterans, compared to 7 percent in the overall U.S. workforce. Census 2016 also found that the percentage of solar workers who are women increased from 24 percent in 2015 to 28 percent in 2016, the percentage of African-American solar workers increased from 5 percent to 7 percent, and the percentage of Latino/Hispanic solar workers increased from 11 percent to 17 percent.