In today’s Electrek Green Energy Brief (EGEB):

  • The US solar industry employed 231,474 workers in 2020. By 2035, we’ll need 900,000 solar workers.
  • 2020 saw the largest annual decrease in US energy production on record.
  • UnderstandSolar is a free service that links you to top-rated solar installers in your region for personalized solar estimates. Tesla now offers price matching, so it’s important to shop for the best quotes. Click here to learn more and get your quotes. — *ad.

Solar workers’ prospects

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), The Solar Foundation, the Interstate Renewable Energy Council, and BW Research today released its “National Solar Jobs Census 2020” report (you can read it here). The US solar industry employed 231,474 workers in 2020, a 6.7% drop from 2019 due to pandemic restrictions and increased labor productivity.

But SEIA analysis shows that the US solar industry will need to reach more than 900,000 workers to meet President Joe Biden’s 2035 clean energy target, so the future is bright for jobs in the solar industry.

Electrek‘s Michelle Lewis spoke with Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of SEIA, by email about future solar careers prospects:

Michelle Lewis: How many solar jobs are full-time, and not gig work?

Abigail Ross Hopper: In 2020, 92% of our 231,000 workers spent 100% of their time on solar-related work.

Michelle Lewis: Are solar construction jobs temporary, since solar farms don’t require many full-time staff to maintain them? (Ed. note: Installation and construction-related employment continue to be the largest segment in the industry, representing 67% of all jobs.)

Abigail Ross Hopper: Project construction is just one of the numerous types of jobs in the solar industry. The majority of solar project construction jobs are full-time, where workers are on several different sites throughout the year. Well over 90% of our 231,000 workers spend 100% of their time on solar work, with incredible opportunity for career growth. This isn’t an industry of temporary workers. We are over 200,000 strong working every day to build the clean energy that will power our future.

Michelle Lewis: How do solar jobs’ salaries compare to fossil fuel jobs? 

Abigail Ross Hopper: Solar jobs are well-paying jobs and pay comparable or higher wages than similar occupations in other industries, including fossil fuels. For example, solar construction managers, operations managers, repair workers, and sales workers earn average salaries that exceed their counterparts in other energy sectors.

Job titles Solar Other energy US overall
Construction managers $127,590 $126,327 $107,979
Electrical engineers $110,770 $118,203 $99,909
Electricians $71,940 $76,678 $63,701
General and operations managers $151,320 $147,900 $123,613
Maintenance and repair workers $61,850 $55,121 $45,327
Project management specialists $94,890 $96,457 $76,245
Sales representatives $96,800 $85,549 $68,624
Roofers $48,404
Solar photovoltaic installers $46,263
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

US energy production drop in 2020

2020 marked the largest annual decrease in US energy production on record, according to the US Energy Information Administration. In 2020, energy production in the US fell to just below 96 quadrillion British thermal units (quads), down more than 5% from 2019’s record high. Specifically, it dropped from 101.3 quads in 2019 to 95.8 quads in 2020. This is attributed to the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Between 2019 and 2020, US coal production fell by 25% to less than 11 quads, its largest annual decrease on record. US crude oil production fell by 8% in 2020 after reaching a record high in 2019. The sudden drop in petroleum demand in March 2020 as a result of COVID-19 led crude oil operators to decrease production.

Natural gas dry production in the United States increased in eight of the previous nine years and hit a record high in 2019. It decreased by 0.6 quads, or 2%, in 2020.

The EIA continues:

US renewable energy production increased by 2% between 2019 and 2020 to a record-high 11.8 quads in 2020, primarily because of increased electricity generation from wind and solar. In 2019, US renewable energy production surpassed US coal production for the first time. Wind energy production increased by 14% in the United States to 3 quads, and US solar energy production grew by 23% to 1.2 quads. US hydroelectric and geothermal energy production stayed flat, while biomass production, including biofuels and wood, declined by 8%.

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