Solar Energy Job Creation - Is the US Competitive?

The international race to create solar energy jobs is alive and well.  There are several reasons why solar energy jobs are increasing.  One of the main reasons is that the cost of solar energy generation has significantly decreased in the past few years.  For instance, Professor John O. Blackburn, a professor of economics at Duke University, along with Sam Cunningham, a Duke graduate student, published a report in 2010 demonstrating that solar energy costs have actually become lower than nuclear energy costs.  In their report, the authors indicate that "Solar photovoltaics have joined the ranks of lower-cost alternatives to new nuclear plants."  This is of course great news for advocates of solar energy all around the world.

In the US, the growth of solar energy jobs has been negatively impacted by the lack of consensus among Federal lawmakers regarding how to incentivize renewable energy use.  However, this does not mean that the US is not competitive when it comes to its ability to produce and distribute solar energy to US consumers.  Indeed, several states have been working hard to attract solar energy plants that create high paying (and sustainable) jobs.

For example, through its Bill SB1403, Arizona has clearly indicated its intentions to become a hub for solar energy companies.  The Bill, which took effect on January 1, 2010 has been credited for the creation of approximately 900 jobs and of an influx of about $119.2M in investments.  These jobs and investments came from large and small solar energy companies, including Suntech, Tower Automotive, Linamar, Rio Glass, Alpha Energies, and PowerOne.

Joseph Tuerff, expert in renewable energy development at Manpower Inc., told me recently that "the growth of solar energy jobs in Arizona is real and here to stay."  Based on his work with solar and other renewable energy firms interested in hiring management talent, Tuerff has been able to witness first hand the significant increase in Arizona-based talent demand by solar energy firms. From his experience in Arizona, labor demand is strongest for middle and senior management talent.  This demand for management talent comes in part from foreign solar energy firms entering the U.S. for the first time, as well as from domestic solar energy firms expanding to Arizona.

Aligned with the CNBC report on the 2009 Top Solar Energy States, Tuerff's analyses along with his knowledge of state regulations in the solar energy industry indicate that, besides Arizona, state lawmakers in Colorado, Oregon, New Mexico, Nevada, and New Jersey have also created a climate that is likely to create solar energy jobs over the next few years.

Overall, solar energy jobs are being created in the US despite the lack of legislative consensus at the Federal level.  As the current uncooperative climate at the Federal level is likely to perdure until the 2012 election, I would not count on the US establishing a Federal legislative climate that would incentivize solar (and other renewable) energy firms to come to the US.  However, keeping track of the progress made at the state level when investigating where solar energy jobs are being created in the US is certainly worthwhile.

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