From red to green

New report shows solar jobs leaving coal in the dust—especially in the South

The solar industry is simply glowing.

technician install new generation photovoltaic solar panels on roof

While the coal industry appears to be on its last leg, renewable energy is on an upswing. The largest renewable energy employer is the solar industry, and a new report released on Wednesday shows that industry has grown a lot over the past decade.

The Solar Foundation's 10th annual National Solar Jobs Census shows nearly 250,000 Americans currently work in the solar industry, and over 5,600 jobs were created in the industry last year. That's good news, considering 2017 and 2018 both saw job losses in the industry partially due to President Donald Trump's tariffs on solar panels. A study that was released in December found the tariffs have cost the industry over 60,000 jobs.

What may come as a surprise to many is that the states that added the most solar jobs were in the South. Florida and Georgia topped the list of most new solar jobs, with Georgia seeing a 30 percent increase in solar jobs and Florida seeing an 18 percent increase. Texas is also one of the top states where the solar industry is growing, and it created 649 new solar jobs in 2019.

The reason that's surprising is that Southern states have historically been reliant on the fossil fuel industry. Georgia has actually become a leader in solar in recent years thanks to the efforts of the head of the state's Public Service Commission, Lauren McDonald Jr. She decided after seeing Germany making strides in solar that the state should try to modernize how it gets its power, as it relied heavily on coal power not long ago.

Florida relies heavily on natural gas but has been making strides in solar in recent years. Texas is a leading oil and natural gas producer, but there's plenty of room for new solar panels in such a massive state. It seems solar is making inroads in the red states.

The solar industry's 2016 growth appears to have mostly stabilized.

The Solar Foundation

Overall, the United States has seen a 167 percent increase in the number of solar jobs since 2010. There was an increase in the number of solar jobs that were filled in 31 states in 2019.

Andrea Luecke, president and executive director of The Solar Foundation, said in a statement that the solar industry has proven itself to be a major job creator.

“The solar industry has been one of America’s leading job creators over the past decade, as evidenced by our annual National Solar Jobs Census,” Luecke said. “In just ten years, despite facing many challenges, solar has grown from a niche product to a mainstream energy source that provides a quarter of a million high-quality jobs. This is great news, but it’s only a fraction of what can be accomplished if we are truly committed to solving the climate crisis and expanding the use of solar and storage. It’s past time for us to unite as a nation and create even more jobs by harnessing the power of the sun.”

The solar industry now employs twice as many people as America's coal industry, and it looks like the solar industry will continue to make gains as the coal industry continues to decline. Nearly 3 percent of all electricity that is generated in the United States currently comes from solar.

Both red and blue state governors were included in the Foundation's press release, eager to show their states as open for business.

“South Carolina’s economy is booming and the growth of our renewable energy industry is a significant part of our success,” said Henry McMaster, the state's Republican governor. “As our state grows, we must continue to look for new ways to generate clean, affordable energy and make it accessible to our citizens. We look forward to doing all that we can to enhance the economic impact of the solar industry in our state.”

“Under Governor Cuomo’s unmatched leadership on climate action, solar has become an increasingly cost-competitive resource in New York’s pursuit of 100 percent clean electricity, with 2019 as our most productive year ever for solar installations,” said New York State Energy Research and Development Authority President and CEO Alicia Barton.

The report claims one of the main reasons the solar industry has been growing so much is the cost of purchasing solar panels has gone down significantly over the years. The price of a residential system has decreased by more than half since 2010. The report claims around 56 percent of new installations are residential.

See also: The Green New Deal would create a lot of jobs

Though President Trump claimed he'd save the coal industry, it doesn't look like that's going to happen, and the solar industry is growing despite his tariffs on solar panels. When the price is right, people keeping buying. Not only is that good for the environment, but an industry like this creating lots of new jobs is also good for the economy.