The sun’s rays are shining light on an industry that has long been in existence, but has recently gained new momentum amid the national push for more renewable energy.
Between October and November 2021, PeopleReady’s skilled trades division reported a soaring 32 percent increase in solar jobs postings, totaling 305,000, compared to pre-pandemic job figures from the same period in 2019.
“The solar industry is thriving,” Jayson Waller, founder and CEO of POWERHOME SOLAR, a provider of solar panel installation and energy efficiency services operating in 15 states, told The Epoch Times. “It’s growing faster than expected.” Solar accounted for 54 percent of all new electricity-generating capacity that was added during the first three quarters of 2021, per the Solar Market Insight Report.
For those looking to switch careers or take on a new job, options abound in the solar industry, with solar installers, welders, electricians, and construction workers among the groups that are currently most in demand, according to the PeopleReady analysis. The median pay sits just under $48,000 per year. In addition to these positions, the solar industry employs scientific researchers, engineers, plant operators, real estate brokers, and sales representatives, among others.
Solar Installation Becomes Less Expensive
To install solar power on a residence 10 years ago, the cost for a 6 kilowatt (kW) solar power system could have a price tag higher than $50,000, according to A1 Solar Store. Today, the cost for a 6 kW residential system has dropped to around $15,000. After six to eight years, the investment pays off and residents can expect to have solar energy for free.
For those that install a solar system, a 26 percent federal tax credit is available in 2022. If a system costs $10,000, homeowners can expect to owe $2,600 less when filing taxes. The credit is set to drop to 22 percent in 2023 and will be eliminated in 2024. Loans for solar systems are also available from financial institutions and solar energy manufacturers, and some come with low rates and no down payment.
The Rise of Community Solar Power
While traditionally, homeowners placed solar panels on their roofs to absorb the sun’s energy, the arrangement left out others who might be interested in solar power access, such as renters or those with fewer financial resources.
“Community solar programs meet that need,” notes Keith Hevenor, communication manager at Nexamp, a Boston-based solar developer specializing in community solar and energy storage solutions, “with large-scale solar farms that share the benefits among hundreds of subscribers with no up-front costs or equipment to install, while providing overall savings on electricity costs.”
Nexamp, which develops, builds, owns, and operates its own solar sites, has more than 250 projects across the country that generate more than 400 megawatts (MW) of clean energy. Those who take out a subscription can tap into solar power without having to install their own rooftop panels, and can save up to 15 percent on electricity costs, though the exact savings varies by location.
“The fastest growing segment of the solar industry is community solar,” David Amster-Olszewski, founder and CEO of SunShare, the nation’s oldest and largest residential community solar company, told The Epoch Times. “It is trending in all states and growing so popular that it often has waitlists for residential and commercial customers to access a garden, ranging from four months to three years.”
Historically, solar power has been limited to daylight hours when the sun is out. “New energy storage technologies make it possible to maximize generation during the daytime and store excess energy for use overnight, as a backup in emergencies, or at times when traditional electric rates are higher,” Hevenor told The Epoch Times.
Job Shifts and Opportunities
“At our company, we have had explosive growth in our workforce hiring,” Waller said. “We started in 2020 with 750 employees and now have over 2,200. The jobs we have filled are comprised of management, sales, installers, and customer service.”
New technologies enable solar power to be generated in diverse locations, including places that get less sunlight, like the Pacific Northwest. Furthermore, “because solar lends itself to a more distributed approach, these jobs can be more evenly spread out across many communities and demographics,” Hevenor stated.
There are even opportunities for those with available land that could be used for solar generation. “Often, landowners will lease a small portion of their land to a solar developer, generating a long-term source of reliable income that allows them to continue farming the rest of their land and preserving the family business,” Hevenor said.
Agrivoltaics, which refers to the simultaneous production of solar power and agricultural use, is becoming more common in some regions. “It combines community solar gardens and ranching,” Amster-Olszewski explained.
Vegetable farmers might grow crops under and around panels, for instance. “Good solar developers are working with communities to increase pollinator growth and wildlife habitats on their projects,” Hevenor added.
The cost of solar panels is decreasing steadily and they are gradually becoming more and more affordable.