The State Of The US Solar Industry: 5 Questions Answered

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Dedicating a 31-kilowatt photovoltaic array at Rainshadow Community Charter High School, in Reno, Nevada. BlackRock Solar, CC BY

Courtesy of Joshua D. Rhodes, University of Texas at Austin

Editor’s note: On Jan. 22, 2018, the Trump administration announced plans to impose punitive duties on solar panels imported from abroad. This decision came in response to a complaint filed by two solar companies, but much of the industry opposes the action, which trade groups say will increase the cost of solar projects and depress demand. To illustrate what’s at stake, energy scholar Joshua Rhodes provides some context on the U.S. solar industry and its opportunities and challenges.

How big is the U.S. solar industry, and what is its growth trajectory?

The U.S. solar industry generated US$154 billion in economic activity in 2016, including direct sales, wages, salaries, benefits, taxes and fees. Its revenues have grown from $42 million in 2007 to $210 million in 2017.

About 25 percent of total new power plant capacity installed in 2017 came from solar. Total installed U.S. solar capacity is over 50 gigawatts – the equivalent generating capacity of 50 commercial nuclear reactors.

Nearly half of utility-scale capacity installed in 2017 came from renewables, and about half of that was solar.

Solar is projected to continue to grow for the foreseeable future. However, recent events such as the solar trade tariff and tax code changes could dampen that trend. According to one estimate, the tariff alone will reduce solar installations by 11 percent from 2018 through 2022.

The industry directly or indirectly employs about 370,000 people in the United States, of which 260,000 are full- or part-time. Solar photovoltaic installers make up about half of this workforce. In fact, solar PV installer is currently the fastest-growing job in the nation, with a median annual salary of nearly $40,000.

For comparison, the coal industry only supports about 160,000 jobs. Electric power generation from solar and wind energy combined contributes about three times as many jobs as electricity production from fossil fuels.

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Rose B. Cates 1 year ago Member's comment

Great post. Really it is new information for me