Some 12 million renewable energy jobs exist worldwide in 2020, and solar made up about one-third of them. The U.S. solar industry employed about 231,000 people, down 6.7% from the 240,000 workers in 2019.
The figures were reported by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), and show that Covid-19 had a damaging impact on the industry. A return to job growth is expected in the coming years.
The IRENA report, citing figures from the 2021 National Jobs Census, found in the U.S., more than 40% of 2020 installations took place in the final quarter, as lockdowns were loosened and as customers sought to qualify for the federal solar investment tax credit. The credit had originally been scheduled to step-down this year, so demand to complete projects before the end of 2020 spiked.
The report also found that U.S. solar jobs are better paid than the national median wage of $19.14 an hour. Solar jobs paid a median $24.48 an hour, but that was lower than nuclear ($39.19) and fossil fuels (roughly $30).
About 85% of solar jobs worldwide were from the top 10 countries. China took the top spot at 2.3 million jobs, followed by the U.S., and Japan. The Americas had an 8.8% share of global solar jobs.
About 5% of the global output of polysilicon, a critical material in the manufacture of the most common solar module type, was attributed to the U.S.
North America had a 2% share in the global production of mono- and polysilicon modules; by contrast, Asia-based producers contributed 95% of the world’s supply.
While U.S. electricity use fell 3.8% in 2020 due to Covid-19 lockdowns, generation from solar and wind grew 15%. Record PV capacity was added, with 14.9 GW deployed. That was up from 7.5 GW in 2019.
Though deployments were up overall, the Solar Energy Industries Association said small- and medium sized installers struggled because the cash sales they rely on declined during the COVID-19 recession.
Solar jobs in the U.S. are down 11% from the peak in 2016. In addition to Covid-19 related job losses, an increase in workforce productivity accounted for some of the loss. IRENA measured a 19% productivity increase in the residential sector, and 32% in utility-scale solar since 2010.
The 155,000 installation and construction jobs made up the bulk of U.S. solar employment, around two-thirds of the total. Manufacturing employed 31,000. The share of women in the workforce rose from 26% to 30% in 2020 (compared to 47% economy-wide). And, about 10% of solar workers were unionized.
Solar workforce training programs continue to arise in the U.S. A recent example came from Colorado, where a bill diverted $15 million to support coal-dependent workers transitioning to clean-energy jobs. Around $7 million was directly dedicated to apprenticeship and training programs for workers and their families.