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April 29, 2013

Solar: If We Invest In It, Jobs Will Come (...and They're Already Here)


By Stephen Dworkin, Sierra Club media intern

Job-seekers take note: clean, renewable, solar energy is quickly growing into one of the hottest industries in which to work.

According to the National Solar Foundation's new comprehensive state-by-state solar jobs map, solar energy already provides the United States with 120,000 jobs, and is expected to add another 20,000 in 2013. The industry is expected to grow by more than 17 percent this year, with 44 percent of solar companies adding new employees.

These booming numbers are just a sliver of a broader success story: the amount of solar energy powering homes, businesses, and federal buildings has increased by a whopping 600 percent since 2008. And in March, all (that's right, ALL) new utility energy capacity came from solar. The facts are clear: solar power is a key producer of jobs and clean energy today.


It's essential that the amount of energy the United States gets from solar and other renewables continues to grow, especially as we work to transition beyond dirty fossil fuels. Every kilowatt hour of solar power produced in the United States is sparing us from toxic, climate-disrupting emissions from coal, oil, and gas. Americans know how important this is: according to a recent Gallup poll, 76 percent of Americans want more emphasis placed on solar energy production. The poll found solar and wind to be the most popular forms of energy in the U.S., with coal and other fossil fuels stuck floundering at the bottom.

Other polling has shown that Americans favor expanding solar power at even higher levels -- as much as 92 percent in a Solar Energy Industries Association poll from last November. The popularity of solar energy, as well as its growing contribution to the U.S. economy and its growing share of American energy use, indicates the clean-energy revolution is already underway.

Meanwhile, a solar revolution is exploding on the state level. On April 23, the New York State Senate unanimously passed an extension to the NY-Sun Initiative, a program that drives growth in the solar industry and lowers solar energy costs for homes and businesses in the state. Many states, including California, Maryland, and even northeastern states like Connecticut, have policies in place incentivizing solar energy production and purchase. But in states like Colorado and Arizona, cuts to solar initiatives are threatening the industry and good clean-energy jobs.

The Obama administration and state governments should listen to the large majority of Americans who want clean energy and double down on solar while protecting important renewable energy incentives. Programs in New York and other states are a positive step, but there are still strong headwinds to overcome. As forces clash over budgets in Washington, D.C., and state capitols across the country, our elected leaders must take solar jobs, and their potential to grow, to heart. If we invest in solar, even more jobs will come.

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