According to a new survey from the nonprofit Solar Foundation, the solar industry now employs more than 260,000 people even though solar power provides just 1.3 percent of America’s electricity. Last year, the industry accounted for one of every 50 new jobs nationwide. “Solar employs slightly more workers than natural gas, over twice as many as coal, over three times that of wind energy, and almost five times the number employed in nuclear energy,” the report notes. “Only oil/petroleum has more employment (by 38%) than solar.” Vox reports: This chart breaks it down by job type. The majority of solar jobs are in installation, with a median wage of $25.96 per hour. The residential market, which is the most labor-intensive, accounts for 41 percent of employment, the commercial market 28 percent, and the utility-scale market the rest. Now, mind you, comparing solar and coal is a bit unfair. Solar is growing fast from a tiny base, which means there’s a lot of installation work to be done right now, whereas no one is building new coal plants in the U.S. anymore. (Quite the contrary: Many older coal plants have been closing in recent years, thanks to stricter air-pollution rules and cheap natural gas.) So solar is in a particularly labor-intensive phase at the moment. Still, it’s worth thinking through what these numbers mean. One argument you could make about these numbers is that all this employment is, in a way, inefficient. If the solar industry hopes to keep pushing costs down and become a major U.S. energy source, it will likely need to become less labor-intensive over time. But labor costs are only one way to think about the issue. There’s also a political angle here. America’s energy system is inextricable from policy and politics, and an industry that creates a lot of jobs is inevitably going to have more influence over that process.
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