Archive for November, 2012

Going green – solar farms, crops – at Robeson Community College

Posted on: November 26th, 2012 by shannon No Comments


LUMBERTON, N.C. — Farming has changed considerably over the last several decades. More and more, farmers are looking to non-traditional crops to increase profit margins.

In Robeson County, many farmers are transitioning from traditional crops to solar farms.

Thanks to the local community college, the county’s reputation for agriculture and renewable energy just got a boost.

On November 9, Lumberton’s Robeson Community College launched the “GreenZone,” a hands-on learning lab where students will learn the importance of sustainability in agriculture and energy.

The GreenZone is an initiative of the BioNetwork, an education and workforce development program launched by the North Carolina Community Colleges system. Robeson Community College was selected as the leading institution for the program’s agricultural biotechnology component, the BioAg Center.

The GreenZone will be a “showcase of sustainability,” said Ed Hunt, coordinator of the BioNetwork BioAg Center. The project will give students and farmers “opportunities to thrive” while preserving North Carolina’s rich agricultural heritage.

The GreenZone project includes a student-run greenhouse, raised planting beds and solar panels. The facility will allow students to learn about some technologies relevant to current and future industries, such as winemaking and sustainable energy.

“A lot of this operation is run by our students,” said Charles Chrestman, president of the Robeson Community College. Students have helped build the project and will play a major role in the crops grown on site.

The GreenZone represents an important project for the school, community and the state, said Senator Michael Walters. According to Walters, the project represents “how we’re moving forward” with green energy and sustainable crops.

“Robeson County is becoming known as the solar farm county in the state,” said Walters. Connecting the region’s strong tradition of agriculture with the technologies of the future will bring the project “full circle as we go forward,” he said.

Lack of education is holding back solar power and other renewable technologies, said Scott Cole, of Simmons Electronics, a partner in the project. The GreenZone will help clarify some of the misinformation that hinders these technologies, he said.

According to Cole, North Carolina has a head start in growing these industries. “One of the ways we’re able to do that is through initiatives brought by the legislature,” he said. The state offers a 35% renewable energy tax credit, one of the best rates in the country, said Cole.

Ryan Nance, coordinator with the Lumber River Workforce Development Board, explained that collaboration is a key component of workforce development. Nance said that political leaders, the community college and private businesses all had a hand in launching the GreenZone, what Nance called a “multi-faceted training center.”

According to Nance, expansion of the solar industry in Robeson County created more than 150 new jobs in the last two years. With the GreenZone, Robeson Community College now provides “customized training” for growing industries. The project will allow students at the school to “utilize these assets that a lot of community colleges don’t have,” said Nance.

The GreenZone will be used as a “demonstration system” to show how agriculture can benefit the state economically and environmentally. Future projects will include the installation of a geothermal system to heat the greenhouse and experimenting with wind energy systems.

 

By JEREMY SUMMERS, NCBiotech Writer

Semprius to power $2.3M Pentagon solar project

Posted on: November 20th, 2012 by shannon No Comments

 

DURHAM, N.C. — Solar technology startup Semprius will be putting photovoltaic modules produced at its new factory in Henderson as part of a Department of Defense contract.

Semprius said Monday that it will provide some 2,400 modules to produce solar power for Pratt & Whitnet Rocketdyne, which won a $2.3 million contract to demonstrate the potential of high concentration photovoltaic (HPCV) technology.

PWR will install a 200 kilowatt solar system at Edwards Air Force base in California using Semprius products.

The system is expected to produce enough power for some 40 homes.

Semprius’ proprietary technology has set records for conversion of solar energy into electricity and can deliver as much as 30 percent more power than other photovoltaic system, the company says.

“We are honored to be working with PWR to deliver our HCPV modules to the DoD,” said Joe Carr, CEO of Semprius. “We believe that our technology will play an increasingly important role in delivering cost-competitive, sustainable energy.”

Semprius, which is venture capital-backed, has been working with PWR since 2011 on a demonstration project at the University of Alabama-Huntsville.

“Having spent several years evaluating emerging PV technologies, we’ve selected Semprius because of the potential of their technology to drive down the cost of solar electricity significantly,” said Randy Parsley, Renewable Energy Program Manager at PWR, in a statement. “We look forward to executing this project with Semprius to help the DoD begin to achieve its energy independence and energy security goals.”

Semprius opened its production plant in Henderson on Sept. 26.

Semprius is based in Durham but chose Henderson for its first manufacturing facility. The company is eligible to receive some $8 million in state and local tax incentives.

Plans call for Semprius to hire some 250 workers over the next several years to man the Henderson facility.

Semprius has raised more than $40 million in venture capital from investors such as Intersouth Partners in Durham as well as In-Q-Tel, the investment arm of the CIA, plus Siemens Venture Capital.

In July, Semprius secured $8 million in credit.

Horizon Technology Finance Corporation and Silicon Valley Bank agreed to provide an $8 million venture loan “facility.”

Horizon will provide $5 million and Silicon Valley Bank the remaining $3 million.

 

By WRAL TechWire

Ask Away! N.C. Solar Center Launches Speakers Bureau

Posted on: November 20th, 2012 by shannon No Comments

The N.C. Solar Center is launching a Speakers Bureau to increase its capacity in answering requests to provide in-person information on renewable energy. Members of the Speakers Bureau were carefully chosen from among the 1,100 past participants of the Center’s Renewable Energy Technologies Diploma Series. These individuals have displayed a keen understanding of renewable energy technologies and markets, and are leaders in their communities.

The Speakers Bureau now allows the N.C. Solar Center to reach out to local communities to provide information on renewable energy technology, market trends and policies and programs in the state that help support this industry.

To learn more about the Speakers Bureau, contact Shannon Helm at shannon_helm@ncsu.edu or Lyra Rakusin at lyra_rakusin@ncsu.edu.

Duke Energy to test new uses for old EV batteries

Posted on: November 16th, 2012 by shannon No Comments

 

Duke Energy, partnering with General Motors and power technology company ABB, will test whether used electric-vehicle batteries can find new purpose on the electric grid.

Lithium-ion batteries often have 70 percent or more of their useful life when they’re no longer usable in electric vehicles, GM says. GM and ABB began work two years ago on ways to reuse their energy storage.

A demonstration Wednesday in San Francisco gave a hint. Five used Chevrolet Volt battery packs were repackaged into a unit that could power three to five average homes for two hours.

Duke envisions battery systems smoothing out the sudden swings in output from solar photovoltaic systems, said senior project manager Dan Sowder, helping the grid work more efficiently.

Duke will install a five-battery system on its grid somewhere in its six-state territory, Sowder said, ideally at a business or home with a rooftop solar system. The location hasn’t been identified.

While prototypes have been tested, Sowder said, “the leap here is that we’re going out to the real live electrical grid.” Duke is also testing other energy-storage technologies across its territory.

The companies see other potential benefits from EV batteries.

As the San Francisco demonstration showed, batteries could supply emergency power during power outages. They could also be charged at night, when electric rates are lowest, and their energy released to the grid during peak demand times.

New uses would also give old batteries new value, reducing the effective cost of owning EVs. GM expects to have 500,000 vehicles with some form of electrification on the road by 2017, implying a healthy market for recyclable batteries.

ABB’s research center in Raleigh has conducted research and development while its Lake Mary, Fla., unit is doing further testing, market research and product development.

ABB’s North American headquarters is in Cary. The company employs more than 1,600 people in North Carolina, including 100 at a cable-making plant it opened this year in Huntersville.

 
By Bruce Henderson, Charlotte Observer

Solar Energy Providing Jobs in Eastern N.C.

Posted on: November 16th, 2012 by shannon No Comments

BATH — Solar energy production has become a hot industry in Eastern North Carolina, pumping revenue and jobs into some of the poorest communities in the state.

The newest commercial-scale project in Beaufort County, scheduled to open by year’s end, is Duke Energy Renewables’ largest solar project so far. Built on 88 acres of farmland just outside Bath, the $40 million Washington White Post Solar Farm will have about 56,000 solar panels that can generate enough electricity to power about 2,000 homes.

The power will be purchased from Duke Renewables, a non-regulated commercial unit of Duke Energy, by the N.C. Eastern Municipal Power Agency through a renewable 15-year agreement, said Duke spokeswoman Tammie McGee. The 12.5-megawatt project could potentially expand, she said, but it has not been decided to what extent.

With the nearby city of Washington — often called “Little Washington” —- suffering a poverty rate of 30 to 40 percent and unemployment hovering around 11 percent, the jobs and tax revenue created by the project are likely more welcome than the clean energy.

“Everyone is thankful we’re here,” said Kenny Habul, chief executive of SunEnergy1, the Mooresville-based contractor. “We’re very well supported. Most people should be fans of clean power — unless you’re a fan of coal.”

There has been no public outcry about the aesthetics of the blue-grey solar panels spread over acres of former farmland, said Catherine Glover, executive director of the Washington-Beaufort County Chamber of Commerce.

“I have not heard objections from anyone,” she said. “If anything, it’s just providing the economic impact we need right now.”

Glover said that between construction jobs and increased business at area retailers, motels and eateries, the project will bring about $20.1 million into the local economy.

And when the Bath project is completed, SunEnergy1 is onboard to build a proposed 20-megawatt solar farm on public land near the local Washington airport, pending Federal Aviation Administration approval, said Shawn Lemond, CEO of Sustainable Energy Community Development Co. in Davidson and the facilitator of both projects.

After the second project, Lemond said, Washington will be at capacity for utility-scale solar power, based on the system demands. But he emphasized that the limitation has no effect on small-scale solar power used at homes and businesses.

North Carolina law requires municipal or co-op utility companies to provide 10 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2018; for investor-owned power companies like Duke the standard is 12.5 percent by 2021.

Lemond, who started his company in 2010, said the growing demand for solar power in Eastern North Carolina is a reflection of the state’s friendly policies and tax incentives for renewable energy businesses. Overall, jobs in renewable energy have expanded from about 4,000 statewide in 2007 to about 15,200 statewide in 2011, he said.

In addition to a 5-megawatt project in Murfreesboro completed in Dec. 2011, Duke Renewables has six 1-megawatt projects in the western part of the state.

But Lemond said he sees the most opportunity in the solar energy field in the eastern and northeastern parts of the state, where there is an abundance of rural flat land and sunshine and a profound need for jobs.

“We’ve definitely seen an increase in the number of solar projects being proposed in Eastern North Carolina, both in terms of the number of projects and an increase in the size,” said Julie Robinson, director of government affairs for the N.C. Sustainable Energy Association. “It’s definitely an area of high interest.”

Robinson said that jobs in the solar industry, many of which entail training and certification, can be compared to the construction industry in that skilled workers go from jobsite to jobsite. For that reason, the solar industry is starting to cluster projects, and manufacturers of solar parts are opening or relocating in North Carolina to meet the industry demand.

Robinson said that with its clean energy policies and job creation, North Carolina is a leader in the Southeast, especially in solar power, and is in the top 10 nationwide.

“I think the goal is to have a more diverse energy mix,” she said. “But renewable energy will never replace all traditional energy like nuclear and coal that our state has relied on for generations.”

For the Bath project, 150 workers have been hired, many of them unemployed construction workers from the local community, Lemond said. That translates to 294,000 wage hours. The project, he said, is also expected to bring an additional $600,000 of sales tax revenue and $209,000 in annual property tax revenue, equal to ½ cent of the county tax rate.

“It allows the very people who were hit the hardest out in Eastern North Carolina to benefit,” he said. “It’s a perfect fit.”

Typically, farmers can lease all or part of their land for about $300 to $400 per acre per year for 15 years, Lemond said.  If the fixed lease is renewed for another 15 years, the price goes up to $450 to $500 per acre per year. Leases adjusted annually usually start at about $125 per acre per year.

Lemond said that there are also benefits beyond direct pay: Line loss — electrical power lost in transmission — is reduced 7 percent. And the infusion of money in worker’s pockets trickles down into the community.

“This has really helped a lot in my county,” Gopher Vaughan, owner of Vaughan Septic & Well Service in Washington, said in a video about the project, “because every cent I make I spend in the county.”

Bosch Solar Energy, a German company providing most of the solar modules at the Bath project, recently opened a second U.S. location in Mooresville, outside of Charlotte, which has become a hub of energy innovators. The company also has an office in San Mateo, Calif.

“North Carolina has a fairly strong program to encourage the use and deployment of solar,” said Eric Daniels, Bosch regional president. “It’s a wonderful place to do business and it’s got the advantage of having a significant amount of sun.”

Daniels said that solar technology has become much more efficient and less expensive; four years ago solar cells cost twice what they cost now. And he said that there is a lot of work being done to continue improvements in the industry.

Solar systems are designed to withstand winds in excess of 125 mph, he said. Even the glass surrounding the silicon solar cells — there are 72 in each module — is made strong enough to take the direct force of a golf ball strike. The systems automatically cut off in hurricane, and all cabling is underground.

Daetwyler Clean Energy in Huntersville has been contracted to build the ground racks that support the 12- to 14-foot wide panels, which are placed in east–to-west lines. The south-facing panels, standing 12 feet off the ground, are noiseless and produce less glare than sun reflecting off water.

The project is expected to eventually produce 23 megawatts of power, Lemond said, based on its sunny southern location.

Lemond said that his company is looking at more projects at locations east of I-95 in North Carolina, including Edenton, Farmville and Elizabeth City, that will add a total of 400 megawatts of solar power to the region.

“It’s an impressive industry,” he said. “It is no longer a fad. It’s got real legs and the ability to really change the economics in Eastern North Carolina for the foreseeable future.”

 

By Catherine Kozak

NC-CHP Initiative holds second meeting; attends NCSU CHP facility ribbon cutting

Posted on: November 16th, 2012 by shannon No Comments

The North Carolina Combined Heat and Power Initiative (NC-CHP Initiative), an industry group focused on creating a favorable environment in the state for development of CHP, held its second meeting on Wednesday, November 14, 2012.  The meeting hosted 30 attendees from the CHP industry, including project developers and end-users, and featured invited guests from the North Carolina General Assembly and North Carolina Public Utilities Commission. The NC-CHP Initiative leadership provided updates on an action plan and policy initiatives for 2013, and led a lunch discussion session with Representative Deborah Ross from the North Carolina General Assembly and Sam Watson of the North Carolina Utilities Commission.

The NC-CHP Initiative coordinated this meeting with North Carolina State University’s ribbon cutting ceremony for its 11 megawatt Cates Facility combined heat and power (CHP) system. NC State University’s Facilities Division hosted the NC-CHP Initiative and other guests for the ceremony, at which NC State University Chancellor Randy Woodson, Vice Chancellor for Finance Charlie Leffler and Assistant Vice Chancellor for Facilities Operations Jack Colby, gave their views of the CHP system’s financial benefits and contribution towards the University’s goal to become carbon neutral by 2050. The ceremony was followed by tours of the new facility.

NC State University completed the 11 MW combined heat and power project on campus to move toward making the NC State a more sustainable community.  The project is located on main campus at the University’s Cates Facility, and is expected to generate $4.3 million of energy savings in the first year of operation.  The project will increase NC. State’s electrical and steam system efficiency by roughly 35%, reducing the University’s greenhouse gas emissions by 8%, or 33,000 CO2 equivalent metric tons. The system will be fueled by natural gas, and will include two 5.5 MW Combustion Turbines, two 50,000 PPH heat recovery steam generators, a 2,000 ton chiller and a cooling tower.  Overall the system will provide approximately 30% of a typical day’s supply of power to North and Central campus.

The project at NC State was financed by Bank of America through a performance contract with Ameresco, Inc., and the cost savings will be used to repay the loan.  If the savings exceed the guaranteed level, the University can apply the excess towards other clean energy or energy efficiency projects on campus.

The Clean Power and Industrial Energy Efficiency team at the North Carolina Solar Center, in the University’s College of Engineering, manages the US DOE Southeast Clean Energy Application Center, and provided technical assistance on the project.   For more information on clean energy resources, visit www.southeastcleanenergy.org.

Public lecture on the future of wind energy in North Carolina on 11/15

Posted on: November 13th, 2012 by shannon No Comments

The Center for Energy, Environment and Sustainability (CEES) at Wake Forest University and the Sierra Club will present a lecture and panel discussion on the future of wind energy in North Carolina.  The event is free and open to the public, and will take place on November 15th at 7:00pm in Kulynych Auditorium at the Byrum Welcome Center.

Speakers will include:

Ned Farquhar — Deputy Assistant Secretary for Land & Minerals Management at the U.S. Department of the Interior
Dr. John Bane — Professor of Marine Sciences at UNC-Chapel Hill
Brian O’Hara — President of the Southeast Coastal Wind Coalition
Jen Banks — Wind Energy Project Coordinator at the N.C. Solar Center
Craig Poff — Director of Business Development at Iberdrola Renewables
April Montgomery — North Carolina representative for Invenergy Services

 

For more information, click here.

Some farmers growing profit with new row crop: solar panels

Posted on: November 9th, 2012 by shannon No Comments

 

ROWLAND, N.C –  Just off a country road is a sight few people ever imagined in this corner of southeastern North Carolina.

Solar panels cover a 35-acre field that once produced corn, tobacco and other crops. When the sun shines, the panels generate enough electricity for hundreds of homes.

“I initially thought this was a pipe dream,” said farmer Billy Dean Hunt, recalling discussions with a solar company about using his cornfield for a sun farm. “But I started talking to them. They convinced me they would honor what they said. So I did it.”

The scene near Rowland is found increasingly across North Carolina. Solar farms dot the landscape from the Blue Ridge mountains to the sandy coastal plain – the result of an emerging renewable energy industry.

In many cases, solar farms are replacing cropland that doesn’t generate enough income from traditional farming. Other times, solar farms are being placed on vacant industrial sites or land that hasn’t grown crops in years.

Unlike many other Southern states, North Carolina has encouraged the development of solar power through generous tax incentives and a state law requiring electric utilities to use some renewable energy. These policies are a key reason North Carolina often rates high in national rankings of solar-friendly states – and why solar farms are growing steadily.

“This shows we are progressive,” said Laurinburg, N.C., Mayor Thomas Parker, whose community has a solar farm similar to the ones in nearby Rowland. “Anytime we can add a dollar to the tax base, we are interested. I believe in it. I think this will be more prevalent in the future.”

Since 2007, when North Carolina began requiring power companies to use renewable energy, about 100 solar farms have registered to open, according to the N.C. Sustainable Energy Association, a group that tracks the sun business.

Some of those may not have cranked up yet, but the association says the number of companies registering with the state gives an indication of the interest. Before the law passed five years ago, North Carolina didn’t have any solar farms, the association reports.

The increase in solar farms reflects a larger trend in North Carolina, where investor-owned utilities must provide up to 12.5 percent of their power from renewable sources.

North Carolina’s renewable and energy efficiency industry employs more than 15,000 people and has generated some $3.7 billion in gross revenue this year, the association says. Companies providing solar services have increased 76 percent since the renewable energy requirement passed the N.C. Legislature five years ago, according to surveys by the Sustainable Energy Association.

The idea behind North Carolina’s solar effort is to diversify energy sources and stimulate the economy with a relatively new type of industry.

Solar will never replace traditional power sources because the sun doesn’t shine all the time. But solar boosters say efforts like North Carolina’s can reduce dependence on coal and nuclear power and stabilize electric bills for customers. Coal and nuclear power plants, both of which create toxic waste, buy fuel from out of state to make energy, and fuel supplies such as coal are subject to price variability.

Solar farms are large-scale projects intended to provide power for the electrical grid, which has historically relied almost entirely on coal, nuclear, hydro and natural gas. Solar farms provide far more energy than solar panels on homes, which also feed power to the grid.

Solar farms periodically spark questions about whether they are appropriate in some communities. Some people say they are unsightly and take up too much space, while others question whether it’s a good idea to replace productive farmland with solar farms.

Conservative lawmakers also question the wisdom of adopting government policies to encourage an industry they say would have trouble surviving on its own. Efforts are under way in North Carolina and, possibly at the federal level, to scale back incentives and requirements for renewable energy.

To Helen and Tom Livingston, solar farms are a great idea.

She and her younger brother decided this spring not to replant a 47-acre cotton field their family has owned for generations. For much of the next three decades, their family will be paid to rent the land to sun-power developer Strata Solar.

Details of the arrangement were not available, but Strata typically pays about $500 to $600 per acre annually. That would be more than $20,000 each year for the 47-acre plot in Robeson County, N.C.

“It is almost too good to pass up,” said Helen Livingston, 71. “For us, it wasn’t just the money. It was the excitement of having a solar farm. But I think people would see that it does pay more than farming.”

Livingston said producing energy from the sun helps reduce dependence on fossil fuels, such as coal and natural gas, which hurt the environment when they are extracted from the earth.

“All of our family is environmentally conscious,” she said. “We were the right contact for a solar farm because we knew the importance of this.”

Hunt, the farmer from Rowland, said his reasons for leasing to a renewable energy company were almost purely financial.

“It is guaranteed money,” said Hunt, 63, a Marine Corps veteran. “Farming is a risky business. If you can take some of the risk out and the liability, you are ahead of the ball game. If I die, my wife will have income because she couldn’t farm the land anymore.”

Like Livingston, Hunt hasn’t abandoned farming other land he owns. His solar farm is surrounded by cornfields that are a short jaunt from the South-of-the-Border tourist stop and the S.C. state line.

Sun farms typically develop in the way Strata Solar Inc. built those for Hunt and the Livingstons. A renewable energy company will strike a deal to rent or buy property, build the sun farm, then resell the power to an electric utility. The solar company makes money, and the utility meets state requirements that it use renewable energy.

Most solar farms contain dozens of rows of large glassy panels, facing south to absorb the best sunlight. Wires send energy to nearby electrical substations. Utility company Duke Energy buys some of the power.

For much of this year, Robeson County was a busy place for solar farms, where Strata Solar developed six of them. Statewide, the company has built about 15 farms and plans more than 20 next year, company spokesman Blair Schooff said. The company’s 12 total solar projects this year employed about 360 construction workers, company officials said.

O2 Energies Inc., another solar development company, opened a $15 million sun farm near Fairmont earlier this month. The company has developed and owns seven farms statewide and plans to develop at least five more next year, said the company’s chief executive, Joel Olsen.

Jerry Bass, Strata Solar’s construction manager for sun farms, said his company trains mostly local workers, then moves them from one job site to the next in areas where the company is building clusters of farms.

Willie Locklear, who helped build the Livingston family’s solar farm, said sun projects have created badly needed construction jobs. Many of the people who landed solar jobs in Robeson County are Native Americans, like himself, who were skilled at general construction work, he said.

But Locklear said those jobs have dwindled and solar farm construction “gave us a chance to show we could do something besides hang a piece of sheetrock.”

Robeson County has an unemployment rate that hovers near 13 percent, one of the highest in North Carolina.

“When I think of solar, I think of Texas, Arizona – places out West,” said the 42-year-old Locklear, now a supervisor with Strata. “But the opportunity has proven itself here. All it takes is an open land mass and somebody willing to take a chance. Sunlight is going nowhere. I think it’s 100 percent more of the future than a lot of people imagined.”

Despite the popularity of solar farms in many parts of North Carolina, the business has detractors, including some lawmakers.

N.C. Rep. Mike Hager, a Republican, said it’s a mistake to dangle tax incentives, which drain state revenues, for an industry that he contends would not be competitive otherwise. He and others question whether North Carolina is gaining any real economic benefit since solar farms don’t produce many jobs after the initial construction phase.

“I think this has set the wrong precedent,” said Hager, a former Duke Energy employee. “You take taxpayer dollars and prop up an industry that can’t survive on its own. Why do we do this? Why is it any better than any of the other ones?”

The development of solar farms has not caused major increases in power bills, but Hager said even extra pennies on a bill matter to people who are unemployed. He predicted the state’s generous tax incentives and energy requirement would be examined by the N.C. Legislature next year.

Utilities argue that it is more expensive to produce sun power than traditional energy forms. They also say the best solar can ever do is supplement more reliable energy sources. It will never replace coal or nuclear because the sun doesn’t always shine.

Still, solar supporters say fossil fuels are finite and subject to price fluctuations.

 

Reposted from the Raleigh News & Observer

 

U.S. Solar Energy Jobs Increase by More Than 13 Percent

Posted on: November 5th, 2012 by shannon No Comments


The Solar Foundation’s Latest Annual Jobs Census Shows Consistent Industry Growth, Notes SEIA

 
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Solar Energy Industries Association® (SEIA®) today highlighted initial findings from The Solar Foundation’s (TSF) third annual National Solar Jobs Census showing that solar energy jobs have experienced strong growth in the U.S. over the past year, despite global economic challenges. The full National Solar Jobs Census 2012, with analysis of employment trends across the entire solar industry is scheduled for release on Nov. 14, 2012 by TSF, a nonprofit research institution located in Washington, D.C.

Initial results from the 2012 census found that the solar industry now employs 119,016 Americans across all 50 states, having grown 13.2 percent over last year during difficult economic times across the nation. In 2011, the solar energy industry employed 105,145 workers, while 93,502 were employed by solar companies in 2010.

Census participants named strong federal solar policy, such as the solar investment tax credit, as one of the most important factors driving growth of solar jobs over the past 12 months. Additionally, one-third of respondents cited the continued decline in solar energy prices as the primary driver of employment growth. State pro-solar policies, including renewable portfolio standards, and the popularity of new third-party system ownership models were other factors creating jobs.

“The solar energy industry is creating jobs in America when we need them most,” said Rhone Resch, president and CEO of SEIA. “The rapid growth of jobs in the solar industry clearly demonstrates that smart policies, including the federal investment tax credit, are putting Americans back to work.  In addition to jobs, these policies are driving down the cost of solar and providing a clean, reliable energy choice for millions of homeowners and businesses.”

“This is what happens when government provides a stable policy environment – the private industry does what it does best – creates new jobs for Americans,” Resch added.

According to the 2012 census, solar job growth easily outpaced that of the overall U.S. economy, which expanded by 2.3 percent (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics) during the same period.  In total, the U.S. today has 5,700 megawatts of installed solar energy capacity, enough to power more than 940,000 households.  The industry expects to nearly double its growth over last year, adding 3.2 gigawatts of solar power online by the end of the year and another 3.9 gigawatts during 2013.

“The solar industry has grown at significantly higher rates than most other industries in the past several years, making it one of the foremost creators of new jobs in the United States,” said Andrea Luecke, TSF Executive Director. “Our census findings indicate that these new jobs are highly skilled in nature, including solar installation, sales, marketing and software development. These new solar industry jobs are sustainable, cannot be outsourced and play a critical role in our country’s economic recovery.”

The Solar Foundation and BW Research, with technical assistance from Cornell University, used an improved version of SEIA’s National Solar Database and additional data sources to refine the methods used in the census and to reach more employers. As a result, the previously reported solar employment figure for 2011 was revised upwards from 100,237 to 105,145. As in past years, the survey examined employment along the solar value chain, including installation, wholesale trade, manufacturing, utilities, and all other fields and includes growth rates and job numbers for 31 separate occupations. The figures in the report were derived from data collected from more than 1,000 solar company survey respondents, yielding a low overall margin of error of +/-1.5%.

Today’s jobs numbers were a preview of the full National Solar Jobs Census 2012 to be released on Nov. 14, 2012 by The Solar Foundation. The National Solar Jobs Census 2012 was conducted by The Solar Foundation and BW Research with technical assistance from Cornell University.

 

Background Materials:

 

- National Solar Jobs Census 2012 Executive Summary   

- U.S. Solar Jobs Census Finds Unemployment Soars as U.S. Economy Lags (Oct. 17, 2011)

- SEIA Statement on 2010 Solar Jobs Census (Oct. 13, 2010)

- SEIA/GTM Research Q2 SMI report on industry growth (Sept. 10, 2012)

- See real people in real solar jobs

 

About SEIA®:

Established in 1974, the Solar Energy Industries Association® is the national trade association of the U.S. solar energy industry. Through advocacy and education, SEIA® is building a strong solar industry to power America. As the voice of the industry, SEIA works with its 1,100 member companies to make solar a mainstream and significant energy source by expanding markets, removing market barriers strengthening the industry and educating the public on the benefits of solar energy. Visit SEIA online at www.seia.org. 

 

Media Contacts:

Monique Hanis, MHanis@SEIA.org202-556-2885

Susan DeVico, SusanDV@aol.com510-339-1527