US Solar Energy Could Employ Hundreds of Thousands of Americans by 2020

A new independent research report released today by the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, found that solar energy is following the same path to commercialization as other traditional energy sources spurred by federal incentives. The study, titled "Assessment of Incentives and Employment Impacts of Solar Industry Deployment," also estimates that the U.S. solar industry could employ hundreds of thousands of Americans by the end of the decade.

Like oil, coal, natural gas, nuclear, and all other traditional energy sources, the Baker Center finds, solar power has received support from the federal government to promote its usage in order to drive our economy. In fact, according to the report, diffusion of solar energy technology in the energy markets is very similar to the paths that many American industries have traveled to become mainstream. Unlike more mature technologies, however, that continue to receive subsidies, solar energy is currently in a very early phase of its growth trajectory.

"When it comes to government investment in new and emerging energy sources, solar is not unique," said Tom Kimbis, Vice President of Strategy and External Affairs for SEIA. "The U.S. has a long history of incentivizing all sources of energy because access to reliable power is the lifeblood of economic development. Pursuing an all-of-the-above approach to our energy portfolio, including aggressively deploying solar energy, is the right policy choice and is critical for America’s long term competitiveness."

The report finds that traditional fuels have been subsidized for decades – some like coal and oil for a century – and followed similar growth trajectories toward majority adoption. According to the Baker Center report, every significant energy resource deployed in the U.S. today has had approximately 30 years of innovation and early adoption before beginning rapid growth that brought about mainstream adoption.

The report also finds that solar energy, photovoltaic, solar thermal and concentrated solar power, has yielded significant public benefits in exchange for federal support. Earlier federal energy policy has helped maintain competition, provide for national security, promote economic development, meet public health and environmental quality standards, and increase energy security.

Additionally, the report points out that solar energy benefits the U.S. energy portfolio by decreasing the impact of supply disruptions and price volatility of other sources of energy. It is also notes that solar power is most efficient during periods of high demand, providing lower cost peak power rates for consumers.

"Just like older energy sources like coal, oil, and gas, solar energy is providing real, tangible benefits to America today," added Kimbis. "Policies designed to increase America’s use of solar are incredibly successful and generating benefits across the nation. It would be a serious mistake for policymakers in Washington, D.C., and in statehouses across the country, to walk away from good public policy."

Today more than 100,000 Americans work at 5,600 solar energy companies across the nation in all 50 states. The industry more than doubled the amount of solar electricity installed in the U.S. in 2011 compared to 2010 and growth is expected to continue in 2012.

The Baker Center study was funded by a research grant from the Solar Energy Industries Association.