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Solar Industry Here to Stay

Friday, June 17th 2011 4:19 PM
By GetSolar Staff.
Solar Industry Here to Stay Over the past few years, new developments in solar power have been discussed in the news, debated on the floor of Congress and installed on rooftops across the nation. For many people, however, the talk sounds much like the hype the industry received in the 1970s and 1980s in the wake of the oil shocks. Once oil prices went back down and the Reagan administration managed to end solar subsidies, interest in the industry dried up.

Anyone interested in drawing a distinction between then and now could point to First Solar and the first solar installation with prices below the grid average. Or potentially the rising efficiency of new solar cells. One interested number that Climate Progress recently noted is that as of now, the U.S. solar industry has actually grown larger than the celebrated American steel manufacturing industry.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, steel manufacturers currently employ 84,290 Americans. RenewableEnergyWold.com reports that a study by The Solar Foundation placed the U.S. solar industry at 93,502 workers, more than 9,000 people more than steel producers. Admittedly, the report from The Solar Foundation includes all aspects of the solar industry from solar panel manufacturers to salespeople at solar installers. If the same range of positions were included for the steel industry, the number would be closer to 160,000 employees.

That larger number raises another interesting point, however: in 2008 the BLS reported that U.S. steel manufacturers alone employed around 159,000 people. In the span of three years, the steel industry has shed half its employees as Chinese steel manufacturing has grown nearly 600 percent since 1995. Meanwhile, the Solar Energy Industries Administration reports that between the end of 2009 and the end of 2010, the value of the U.S. solar market grew by two-thirds from $3.6 billion to $6 billion. A more recent report from the group suggests solar installations could double in capacity by the end of the year, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Perhaps more impressive, PV Tech reports the German photovoltaic industry alone has also passed the U.S. steel sector, reaching more than 100,000 employees. This incredible growth despite boasting a population little more than one-quarter of the United States. German companies alone installed roughly 7.4 gigawatts of solar panels.

With such stunning, broad-based success, there seems little chance of the solar industry disappearing overnight.

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