The profile of jobs in the energy sector is changing, in large part to the success of the solar industry, and the U.S. Department of Energy has updated its reporting criteria to more accurately account for these changes in its jobs report. The first report using this new criteria, the inaugural U.S. Energy and Employment Report (USEER), was just released, and it uses a combination of existing energy employment data and a new survey of energy sector employers to provide a broad view of the national current energy employment landscape.
USEER examines four sectors of the economy — electric power generation and fuels; transmission, wholesale distribution, and storage; energy efficiency; and motor vehicles — which cumulatively account for almost all of the United States’ energy production and distribution system and roughly 70 percent of U.S. energy consumption. By looking at such a wide portion of the energy economy, USEER can provide the public and policy makers with a clearer picture of how changes in energy technology, systems, and usage are affecting the economy and creating or displacing jobs.
Four major gaps exist in current energy employment data. These include 1) business activities essential to the operation of traditional energy companies classified by the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) within the business activities of other sectors, 2) jobs associated with the production of renewable energy such as wind, solar, geothermal, etc., 3) jobs associated with energy efficiency, and 4) jobs associated with energy efficiency in manufacturing processes. The USEER attempts to bridge that gap.
“The transformation of our energy system and the growth of energy efficiency technologies are creating opportunities for thousands of new jobs, especially in energy efficiency and solar,” said David Foster, Senior Advisor on Energy and Industrial Policy at the Department of Energy. “This report gives an important snapshot of energy employment in America, and subsequent reports will provide better information to guide policies and priorities that create new jobs, appropriately train workers, and promote a successful national energy policy.”
Anyway, how did solar come out in this report, using the new criteria?
Today, 600,000 workers are employed within the Electric Power Generation and Fuels sector in low carbon emission generation technologies, including renewables, nuclear, and advanced/low emission natural gas. Just under 300,000 individuals work, in whole or in part, for solar firms, with over 200,000 of those employees spending the majority of their time on solar. There are an additional 77,000 workers employed at wind firms across the nation.
The USEER says that solar employment presents perhaps the best example of the limitation of existing labor market data for the industry. While the QCEW has been updated to cover solar electric generation at utilities, the vast majority of installed capacity is owned by independent project developers, residential and commercial building owners, or other distributed generation. As a result, the BLS currently reports 2,023 workers at solar utilities, but solar electric generation technologies employ about 209,000 workers across the nation; an additional 91,000 workers also spend some amount of time working with solar technologies.
The United States’ solar sector has grown by just over 20 percent between November 2014 and November 2015, and employers expect to increase total employment by another 15 percent over the coming 12 months. In fact, 2015 was the third consecutive year in which solar employment grew by approximately 20 percent; since 2010, solar firms have created an additional 115,000 new jobs (123 percent employment growth).
Installation firms employ the majority – 57 percent – of the nation’s solar workforce, while equipment manufacturing represents about two in ten solar jobs (15 percent). With the exception of manufacturing, all business activities increased employment over the course of 2015. Solar installation employers are creating jobs at a faster rate than the industry’s other business segments. Since 2010, solar installation firms have increased employment by 173 percent, from 44,000 to 120,000 workers. Roughly one in five employers reported hiring as “very difficult” this past year; experience was cited as the most important hiring requirement across all business activities.
The proportion of women in the solar industry has increased since 2013 from about 19 percent to just under a quarter (24 percent). Veterans have declined by two percentage points, and now comprise about 8 percent of the solar workforce. Ethnic or racial minorities represent about a quarter (26 percent) of the nation’s solar workforce.
“The USEER confirms that America’s electric power companies provide rewarding careers for more than one million Americans, directly and indirectly,” said Mary Miller, Chief Administrative Officer for the Edison Electric Institute. “These careers include traditional energy sources, transmission and renewable energy development. Electric power companies are responsible for the majority of the jobs in the renewable energy sector, as solar from utilities accounts for nearly 60 percent of all installed solar capacity on the power grid today. Additionally, electric companies are responsible for the development of almost all of the other renewable capacity including wind, geothermal and biomass. Our industry will continue to work closely with our government partners as we develop the future workforce needed to provide all Americans with affordable, reliable and safe energy.”
Listen to more in-depth conversations on Solar Builder's YouTube channel
Our most popular series include:
Power Forward! | A collaboration with BayWa r.e. to discuss higher level industry topics.
The Buzz | Where we give our 2 cents per kWh on the residential solar market.
The Pitch | Discussions with solar manufacturers about their new technology and ideas.