Record breaking solar growth: 2015 a year in review

2015 was a record breaking year for solar in the United States with massive increases in solar generating capacity and jobs creation.

Collectively the solar industry installed 7,300 megawatts of clean solar PV in 2015, bringing us to over 25 gigawatts (25,000 megawatts) of total installed capacity nationwide, or enough to power 5 million+ homes. This is a market increase of 17% since last year. In comparison, just 4 megawatts of solar generating capacity were installed nationwide in 2000. Solar installations have continued to increase yearly, but it has really been in the past few years that the number has spiked significantly – this past year’s installations were 757% greater than in 2010.

Solar supplied 29.5% of all new electric generating capacity in 2015, beating out natural gas for the first time ever! The residential solar market was the fastest growing sector, and represented about 1/3 of the entire US solar market, growing 66% in 2015. The utility-scale sector continued to account for the bulk of the market, representing more than half of all solar PV installed in 2015. New York State has continued to move up in the national rankings by state for annual PV installations, reaching 5th place in 2015.

Lest you think solar is still a technology adopted only by tree-huggers, motivated by its environmental ramifications alone, a recent report by the Solar Energy Industries Association proves that is just no longer the case. Solar has become a truly finically compelling investment and we are starting to see massive adoption of solar by some of the largest companies in the US. Going solar is good for business.

Case and point: In 2015 Walmart once again had the most electric generation capacity of solar investments and projects of any business in the US in 2015. They’ve reached 142 megawatts of solar generating capacity, with nearly 350 systems nationwide. And they’re not the only ones – FedEx is powering some of their distribution centers with solar, as are IKEA, Target, Kohls, Macys and Costco. Data centers for Apple and Verizon, along with the headquarters of L’Oreal, Forever 21, and the Better Businesses Bureau are now solar powered. Auto manufacturers like General Motors, Ford, Toyota, and Volkswagen are also beginning to adopt solar. These major players are installing solar because – bottom line – it cuts costs.

The massive increase in solar capacity has been possible because of the thousands of skilled workers now employed by the industry. The Solar Foundation reports that solar industry’s workforce has increased 123% in the past 5 years. As of November 2015 the solar industry directly employed about 210,0000 domestic living-wage workers, and supported an additional 610,650 ancillary jobs through-out the supply chain. 35,052 of those new jobs were added in 2015, building on the 31,000 added the year before. In contrast, solar now employs 77% more people than the coal mining industry!

Veterans of the U.S. Armed Services are strongly represented in the solar workforce, accounting for 8% of its employees. We expect that number to increase due to programs like “Solar Ready Vets”, launched by the Department of Energy in partnership with the Department of Defense. This program was piloted on 10 military bases across the country and trains transitioning military service personnel to enter the solar workforce. The Department of Labor is also working closely with of the Department of Defense, Energy and Veterans Affairs to make sure transitioning service members and veterans are aware of job opportunities in the solar industry.

Overall, solar has added workers at a rate that is 12 times faster than the overall economy. The US Department of Energy reports that the solar industry is responsible for 1 in 83 of all new jobs added to the US workforce. These jobs are competitive, living-wage jobs. The DOE’s Solar Energy Technologies office lists that currently the average solar installation worker earns $21 per hour, solar designers an average of $27, with sales consultants averaging $29 per hour. In contrast, the average wage earned nationwide per hour in 2015 was $17.09.

New York is 4th in the nation for number of solar jobs. The Solar Foundation reports that 8,250 New Yorkers are now employed by the industry, 5,829 of whom are in the installation sector. Nearly 1,000 residents hold solar sales and distribution jobs, with another 800 New Yorkers holding positions in manufacturing. The remaining 650 employees have positions in project development, administration and other roles. There have been nearly 1,000 new solar jobs created in the state since 2014 and the Solar Foundation predicts that the solar workforce here will continue to grow in 2016, estimating at least 1,000 more jobs will be added.

Renovus Solar created 25 new positions to our company structure in 2015. These positions include a variety of administrative roles, such as a full-time scheduling coordinator, two engineering administrators, support roles in human resources and accounting, as well as a diversification of installation jobs including supervisors for residential roof-mounted PV, residential ground mounted PV, and commercial PV installation teams, a materials procurement specialist, warehouse coordinator, and the development of the company’s commercial division. To fill these positions Renovus hired nearly 40 new employees in 2015, doubling our company’s workforce.

We are proud to be growing solar in New York State – in 2015 we installed over 2.5 megawatts of solar generating capacity, constructed an average of 10 PV systems per week, helped 550+ individual clients reach energy independence for good, and created jobs to serve our community.