Jobs Census 2022
With expanded jobs data on energy storage
and other clean energy industries
Long-Term Outlook for Solar Jobs
By all indications, the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) will lead to transformative growth for solar and other clean energy industries. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory predicts that clean electricity (including nuclear power) could grow from 41% of total generation to 71-90% by 2030, mainly as a result of this new law. In that same time period, annual carbon emissions could decline 72-91% below 2005 levels.1 Achieving these benchmarks will require hundreds of thousands more workers to install, design, manufacture, and manage clean energy projects.
The IRA includes several key provisions that will drive solar industry growth. It extends the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) for the next 10 years, providing companies the certainty they need to develop new projects and make long-term investments in technology improvements and workforce development. For the first time, solar companies will also have the option to use the Production Tax Credit, which in some cases will be more lucrative than the ITC. New direct pay and transferability provisions allow new entities to take advantage of the tax credits, including churches, government entities, educational institutions, tribal nations, and other nonprofits.
The IRA also extends the residential Investment Tax Credit for 10 years, encouraging growth in the distributed solar market. It includes an advanced manufacturing tax credit for the domestic production of solar components, and sets up a $27 billion greenhouse gas reduction fund to finance clean energy projects. Other provisions in the IRA encourage EV production, energy efficiency, and clean energy growth in low-income communities.
Solar Jobs in 2023
The full impact of these new policies is unlikely to be felt until 2024 or later. This is especially true in the utility-scale sector, where new deployments that were initiated in the wake of the IRA may take several years to go online. Trade policies could pose barriers but they will unlikely be as impactful as they were in 2022, when many solar projects were delayed due to trade policy disruptions. Supply chain concerns are likely to ease as solar modules are cleared for compliance with the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act. However, the anti-circumvention investigation of Southeast Asian nations may pose a supply chain barrier when it is revisited in 2024.
On balance, the solar industry expects a year of recovery in 2023. Solar deployment is expected to increase 39% to 29.4 GWdc. This will be driven by a 61% jump in the utility-scale sector to 20.2 GW. The residential market will be boosted by a rush to connect panels to the grid in California before the new net metering policy went into effect this April. Residential deployment is expected to grow 8% to 6.5 GW, followed by a slowdown in 2024. Non-residential solar, including commercial and community solar, is expected to grow 3% to 2.7 GW.2
The Solar Jobs Census survey asked firms how many more employees they expect to have 12 months later. Based on their responses, solar firms expect 9% employment growth, which would bring the total to 287,632 solar workers. These predictions have often proven wrong in past years as unanticipated factors come into play. However, if industry expectations bear out for expanded solar deployment in 2023, this will translate into significant job growth.
Looking to the Future
From 2024 onward, the IRA is expected to have far more substantial impacts on the clean energy job market. The impact of the new law will depend in part on how various tax credits are interpreted and implemented, such as the 10% adder for domestic manufacturing. Future trade policy decisions could also have an impact if new tariffs are imposed on imported panels and cells. Connecting new projects to the grid is another area of concern, with an interconnection backlog leading to delays in both utility-scale and distributed solar projects.
When asked what factors contributed to the difficulty of growing a profitable business, significant numbers of firms noted the cost or supply of materials, interconnection delays, permitting delays, lack of qualified talent, and policy challenges. Notably, the percentage listing policy challenges as a very significant concern declined from 54% in 2021 to 36% in 2022. This is likely due to the easing of trade barriers toward the end of the year, and may also reflect the industry’s optimism after the passage of the IRA.
While much remains uncertain, the solar industry expects total U.S. installations will multiply fivefold in the next 10 years, from 141 GW in 2022 to over 700 GW in 2033.3 The Solar Energy Industries Association predicts the total number of solar jobs could more than double, reaching 538,000 by 2032.4
After more than a decade of growth, solar energy has already made its mark on the U.S. economy and job market, as reflected in past editions of the National Solar Jobs Census. In the decade to come, it will not be a surprise to see an even more dramatic impact from this boundless energy resource.
- David Feldman et al, Spring 2023 Solar Industry Update.
- Wood Mackenzie/SEIA, US Solar Market Insight Q2 2023 Report
- Wood Mackenzie/SEIA, US Solar Market Insight 2022 Year in Review.
- Solar Energy Industries Association, Impact of the Inflation Reduction Act,, https://www.seia.org/research-resources/impact-inflation-reduction-act (accessed June 2023).