The State of the Solar Industry: Page 4 of 9

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    The State of the Solar Industry
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  • The State of the Solar Industry
  • Green Power EMC won SEPA’s 2016 Cooperative Utility of the Year award
  • Signs of mainstreaming
  • Solar roof tiles

The Solar Foundation (thesolarfoundation.org)
Andrea Luecke, president and executive director

The Solar Foundation is a nonprofit organization with a reputation for impartiality and high-quality, objective research on solar markets, economic impacts and the workforce. The foundation works with decision makers in the government, business and nonprofit arenas. Founded in 1977, it relaunched in its current form in 2010. As president and executive director since the relaunch, Andrea Luecke is the lead on The Solar Foundation’s annual National Solar Jobs Census report series and frequently presents on practical solar best practices.

What recent developments is The Solar Foundation most excited about?

Just in the last year, we’ve seen solar take off at an unprecedented pace. The sharp drop in the cost of solar modules and related components, combined with the growth of both corporate renewables procurement and wholesale distributed generation, has provided new life to the small utility-scale and large commercial and industrial sectors. On the residential side, we’re seeing more and more homeowners looking to finance their solar installations with loans and other products that allow them to keep more of the financial benefits of the system.

All of these developments represent the evolution of an increasingly healthy and mature solar market. Of course, a big wild card will be the impact of the 2016 election on US energy and climate policy. The bottom line, though, is that solar provides a clean and abundant energy source that is increasingly popular and very cost competitive. I’m very optimistic that these trends will continue into 2017 and beyond.

What are your priorities as we enter the new year?

Early in the year, we’ll be releasing the annual National Solar Jobs Census. We first released our National Solar Jobs Census in 2010, so this is our seventh annual jobs census report. We will also be ramping up several programs funded by the US DOE SunShot Initiative, including two major initiatives to strengthen the solar workforce. One is the Solar Training Network, which will build connections between solar job seekers, employers and training providers. Another is Solar Ready Vets, which helps transitioning military personnel gain access to solar training and employment opportunities.

Another one of our priorities will be to help the solar industry reduce soft costs, which now represent up to two-thirds of the cost of an installed residential system. We lead a program called SolSmart, which provides no-cost technical assistance and national recognition to help cities and counties cut red tape and demonstrate that they are open for solar business. That’s a way to create jobs and economic development at the local level, and at the same time provide more residents and businesses with the opportunity to go solar.

We will also be moving forward with the CivicPACE program, which supports expanded solar energy deployment by bringing property assessed clean energy (PACE) financing to tax-exempt organizations, including affordable housing, schools, nonprofits and faith-based institutions.

Are there results from the 2015 Solar Jobs Census that might surprise US solar industry professionals?

Solar employment in the United States reached 209,000 workers as of 2015, having grown at least 20% for each of the last 3 years. This job growth is happening nationwide. In 2015, states that saw their solar workforce grow by 30% or more included not only California and Massachusetts, but also Florida, Maryland, Tennessee, Oregon, Nevada, Michigan and Utah.

Are there specific areas within the industry that offer more job opportunities than others?

Project installation is the industry’s largest employment sector, with 119,931 solar workers as of 2015. However, other jobs are available in sales, marketing, project management, engineering and much more. Solar industry jobs come with relatively few barriers to entry and many opportunities for advancement. In some cases, individuals can start out in an entry-level installation position and then, with a lot of hard work and the right attitude, double their salary when they are promoted a year later. The Interstate Renewable Energy Council’s Solar Career Map (irecsolarcareermap.org), which outlines career opportunities based on job category and education level, is a useful resource for job seekers.

What is The Solar Foundation’s Solar Training Network?

In our Solar Jobs Census, we found that one in five solar employers reported it was “very difficult” to find qualified employees. The Solar Training Network, which we launched in 2016, aims to bridge the gap between supply and demand in the solar workforce. It will strengthen connections between job seekers, training providers, workforce development boards and solar employers. It will also facilitate new research to better understand the solar workforce and the benefits of solar training for employers.

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