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This 3.8 percent decline was driven by a number of factors, from a slowdown of utility-scale and residential solar installations to the industry's uncertainty over President Trump's tariffs on imported solar panels.
By Jodie Van Horn
We'd never argue that 2017 was a great year, but some really great things did happen!
Here are 50 ways (yes, 50!) that clean energy kept winning in 2017 despite Trump's attempts to roll back the country's progress.
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Nearly 5,500 K-12 schools in the U.S. are harnessing the sun's rays for energy, according to a new report by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the Solar Foundation and clean energy nonprofit Generation 180. That means about five percent of all K-12s in the nation are solar powered.
The study, Brighter Future: A Study on Solar in U.S. Schools, 2nd Edition, touts that this switch to renewables has allowed schools to reduce their electricity bills, all while freeing up resources to invest in education. Roughly four million students attend such schools.
The American solar workforce grew at a historic pace in 2016, a year when one out of every 50 new U.S. jobs was in the solar industry, according to the new National Solar Jobs Census 2016, the seventh annual report on solar employment issued by The Solar Foundation.
The National Solar Jobs Census 2016 found that solar industry employment growth outpaced the overall U.S. economy by 17 times as it increased by more than 51,000 jobs, for a total of 260,077 U.S. solar workers. The solar workforce grew by 25 percent over 2015, the largest annual growth percentage since The Solar Foundation's first National Solar Jobs Census was released in 2010.
"More and more business leaders and investors recognize that climate changes presents both risks and opportunities, but they need better information to make informed decisions. The Solar Jobs Census helps provide that," said Michael R. Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg L.P., philanthropist and three-term Mayor of New York City.
The number of solar jobs increased in 44 of the 50 states in 2016, showing that solar industry growth is truly a nationwide phenomenon. The state with the highest total number of solar jobs in 2016 was California, followed by Massachusetts, Texas, Nevada and Florida. A complete list of the number of solar jobs by state, along with state growth rates over 2015, can be found here.
"With a near tripling of solar jobs since 2010, the solar industry is an American success story that has created hundreds of thousands of well-paying jobs," said Andrea Luecke, president and executive director of The Solar Foundation.
"In 2016, we saw a dramatic increase in the solar workforce across the nation, thanks to a rapid decrease in the cost of solar panels and unprecedented consumer demand for solar installations. More than ever, it's clear that solar energy is a low-cost, reliable, super-abundant American energy source that is driving economic growth, strengthening businesses and making our cities smarter and more resilient."
Solar job growth in 2016 took place in all job sectors, including a 26 percent growth in manufacturing companies to 38,121 jobs nationwide. Installation jobs increased by 14 percent to a total of 137,133 jobs. Project development jobs increased by 53 percent to 34,400 jobs, while sales and distribution jobs increased by 32 percent to 32,147 jobs.
"Solar is an important part of our ever expanding clean energy economy in Massachusetts, supporting thousands of high-skilled careers across the Commonwealth," said Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker. "Through the continued development of solar incentive programs, Massachusetts is positioned to double the amount of solar for half the cost to ratepayers and maintain our position as one of the best states in the country for energy diversity."
Nine percent of solar workers nationwide are veterans, compared to 7 percent in the overall U.S. workforce. Census 2016 also found that the percentage of solar workers who are women increased from 24 percent in 2015 to 28 percent in 2016, the percentage of African-American solar workers increased from 5 percent to 7 percent and the percentage of Latino/Hispanic solar workers increased from 11 percent to 17 percent.
"As part of our commitment to sustainability and goal to be energy independent by 2020, IKEA is proud of its 44 MW of solar arrays atop 90 percent of our U.S. locations," said Lars Petersson, IKEA U.S. President. "We are thrilled that our solar investment has helped contribute to rapid growth in the clean tech and renewable energy industry 3/4 and the creation of quality jobs and a low-carbon society as a result."
Since 2010, The Solar Foundation's National Solar Jobs Census has defined solar workers as those who spend at least 50 percent of their time on solar-related work. The Solar Foundation has consistently found that approximately 90 percent of these workers spend 100 percent of their time on solar-related work. This year's census was part of the U.S. Department of Energy's U.S. Energy and Employment Report data collection effort that included more than 500,000 telephone calls and more 60,000 emails to energy establishments in the U.S. between October and November 2016. This resulted in a total of 3,888 full completions for establishments involved in solar activity in the U.S.
Watch the video from the Solar Jobs Census 2016 below: