IREC Reports Solar Energy Employment Increases Across Nearly All States in 2021

Solar energy jobs rose in 47 states and increased 9% nationwide from 2020 to 2021 to a total of 255,037 solar workers, according to the Interstate Renewable Energy Council’s (IREC) annual National Solar Jobs Census.

This job growth was triggered by record solar installations in 2018, which saw increased demand from residential customers, municipalities as well as businesses and electric utilities for renewable energy. The total number of jobs created by the solar industry in 2021 was 21,563, with more than two thirds (14.350) being at installation and development firms.

“America’s solar industry came back strong from the pandemic to expand the clean energy workforce across all regions of the country,” states Larry Sherwood, president and CEO at IREC. “The future remains uncertain in light of the supply chain disruptions, trade issues, and stalled federal policy in the first part of 2022. There is potential for unprecedented job growth in the coming years if federal, state, and local leaders take action to expand clean energy use and address climate change.”

U.S. solar employment has increased more than twice in the past decade from 105.145 jobs in 2011 and 255.037 jobs by 2021. The largest growth has been in the installation and development sector. This sector saw more than tripled employment between 2011 and 2021, reaching 168.960 jobs.

California is still leading the way in solar jobs at the state level with 75,712 jobs. This is followed by Florida (11.761 jobs), Massachusetts (10.548 jobs), New York (10.524 jobs), and Texas (10.346 jobs). These are followed by Arizona and Nevada, Nevada, Ohio, each with 7,000-9,000 jobs.

California was also the top state for adding jobs in 2021 (7.035 new jobs), followed closely by Massachusetts (+1.053 jobs), Nevada (+019 jobs), and Arizona (+932 job). Other strong growth states were Ohio, North Carolina, New Jersey and Georgia, each with 800–900 new jobs.

“Solar energy is an economic growth engine, creating new jobs while it helps us confront the climate crisis,” says Dan Reicher, senior scholar at Stanford Woods Institute and a former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Energy. “There is vast and untapped potential to expand solar installations and related jobs across the United States, in an environmentally sustainable manner, as we help businesses and families access this renewable energy source.”

To achieve its diversity, equity, and inclusion goals, the solar industry has more work ahead. It must also make sure that the clean energy economy is accessible to underrepresented groups. The report found that women comprised just 30% of the global solar workforce in 2021. Black employees made up 8%, Latino or Hispanic workers made it 20%, and Asian workers made the up 9%. Only a third of solar companies reported strategies to increase the number of female, ethnic, or racial minorities or LGBTQ+ employees.

The solar industry can provide a pathway to advancement and a family-sustaining job, even for those who don’t have a college degree. Less than one-third of entry-level solar jobs (31%) require a bachelor’s degree, while 65 percent of firms provide on-the-job training. In a year with a tight labor market, 89% of firms reported difficulty finding qualified applicants, including 35 percent that said it was “very difficult.”

“These 2021 findings highlight that we can create family-sustaining jobs at the same time that we reduce carbon emissions,” adds Tom Starrs, vice president of government and public affairs at EDP Renewables. “They also highlight the critical importance of supportive policies to unlock the full potential of the solar industry to drive employment, foster local energy resilience, and confront climate change.”

This report analyzes data from the U.S. Department of Energy’s U.S. Energy and Employment Report 2022 and a supplemental follow-up survey of solar establishments. BW Research Partnership administered both surveys. The National Solar Jobs Census defines a “solar employee” as someone who spends more than 50% of their time on work related to solar.

The full report is available here.