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National Solar Jobs Census finds increase in productivity, dip in employment for 2020

May 20, 2021
By: Connor LaVelle

The United States solar industry experienced a 6.7 percent drop in total employment during 2020, a reflection of the difficulties that the COVID-19 pandemic caused in some parts of the manufacturing and construction sectors. Despite these challenges, the 2020 National Solar Jobs Census, released by the Solar Energy Industries Association, notes that the industry installed a record level of solar equipment throughout 2020 while also reaching new highs in most measures of diversity. As the sector continues to grow, the Department of Energy’s Solar Energy Technologies Office has issued two requests for information surrounding the solar industry.

While the 231,474 employees within the solar industry marked the lowest total employment for the sector since 2015, the report finds that labor productivity within the U.S. solar industry dramatically increased in 2020, leading to the increase in total solar installations for the past year. This rise in productivity was due in part to the changes brought on by the pandemic, such as the shift from in-store to online sales that reduced salesperson labor and homeowners’ increased awareness of their home energy usage that led to an increase in consumer acquisition.

The challenges of the pandemic were uneven on a state level. States that had large distributed solar markets were impacted the hardest due to the work restrictions that had been placed on the residential and commercial segments while states whose solar markets had larger utility-scale developments were found to have fared somewhat better. Despite 2020’s difficulties, the report notes that growth in solar employment throughout the last five years has been strong in multiple states, with 42 of 50 states seeing increased levels of solar employment when compared to 2015.

Looking towards the future, however, the U.S. solar industry as a whole will need to experience a significant jump in employment if it hopes to help achieve President Biden’s goal of a carbon-free energy grid by 2035. On its current trajectory, the Solar Energy Industries Association projects that slightly more than 400,000 workers will be employed within the U.S. solar sector in 2030, yet it is estimated to take roughly 900,000 workers throughout the nation’s solar industry by 2035 to achieve full decarbonization.

The Department of Energy’s Solar Energy Technologies Office has issued two requests for information surrounding the solar industry. The first focuses on equitable access to community solar, requesting information on the current barriers to rapid community solar deployment and is targeted at all stakeholders who work with individuals or organizations with high energy burdens. The second serves as a request for information aimed at the solar industry and its workforce partners, as the Department of Energy looks to build a better understanding of workforce development programs, strategies, and tools that can support the development of a diverse and skilled clean energy workforce.

The full National Solar Jobs Census 2020 report can be accessed here, while the Department of Energy’s Solar Energy Technologies Office’s requests for information can be found here.

solar, dept of energy