The US solar industry is adding jobs much faster than the rest of the economy - over the past year, solar jobs grew eight times faster than the overall economy.
From September 2011 through September 2012, solar jobs grew 13.2% compared to 2.3% employment growth in the overall economy. The fossil fuel electric generation industry shed 3.8% of its workforce, almost 4000 people.
That brings US solar employment to 119,000, about 14,000 more than in 2011, according to the National Solar Jobs Census 2012 conducted by The Solar Foundation.
And they are skilled jobs in installation, sales, marketing and software development
Employers cite the continued decline in component prices, state Renewable Portfolio Standards, the solar leasing model and federal tax incentives as leading drivers of growth.
The annual survey examines employment along the solar value chain, including installation, wholesale trade, manufacturing, and utilities.
Over the past five years, US solar installations have grown 77% a year (compound growth rate) reaching nearly four gigawatts (GW) by the end of 2011 - enough to power 700,000 homes. 10 states account for 87% of the nation's total solar capacity.
Total grid-connected capacity nearly doubled in 2011, led by utility-scale solar and commercial installations, says the US Energy Information Agency. Five years ago, utility-scale solar was practically non-existent in the US. Thanks to President Obama's Recovery Act, it grew from just 70 megawatts (MW) in 2008 to 1052 MW in 2011.
2011 was also the first year over a gigawatt (GW) was added in one year.
Many analysts expect the US to become the largest solar market in the world by 2014 and to capture 14% of the global market share by 2016.
By 2030, the US solar industry will employ over 340,000 people according to the U.S. Department of Energy's SunShot Vision Study.
"Expected continued decreases in the costs of solar energy system ownership will steadily drive the solar industry to a tipping point past which installations (and therefore solar employment) will grow at unprecedented rates," says The Solar Foundation.
The National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) projects residential solar will reach "break-even" (where the net cost equals the net benefit) at $4 per watt. It expects 75% of the US to achieve that by 2015.
As of the first quarter of 2012, the average installed cost for a residential solar system is $5.89 per watt, decreasing 3% per quarter since the beginning of 2010, according to he Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and GTM Research.