Sunny days for the solar industry

March 23, 2017
Solar employment now surpasses fossil fuel jobs, and more.
Gail Overton 720
According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), U.S. solar employment now surpasses coal, gas, and oil jobs in the power generation field. With solar jobs growing at 25% in 2016, a total of 374,000 employees now work in solar jobs compared to 187,117 electrical generation jobs in coal, gas, and oil combined. This is one surprising fact that can be found in the DOE U.S. Energy and Employment Report for 2017.

(Image credit: George Washington University's Solar Institute)

Being a huge supporter of residential solar for a long time, I knew this day would come; but somehow, the statistic probably eludes many of our nation's politicians and corporations. According to the International Energy Agency, "The IEA's latest estimates indicate that fossil-fuel consumption subsidies worldwide amounted to $493 billion in 2014, $39 billion down on the previous year, in part due to the drop in international energy prices, with subsidies to oil products representing over half of the total. Those subsidies were over four-times the value of subsidies to renewable energy."

And yet, despite the subsidy hurdle, not only is the solar industry creating more jobs, it is also surpassing fossil fuel innovation and achieving countless other milestones. Here are just a few:

--A report in USA Today from December 2016 says that according to the World Economic Forum, solar and wind are now the same price or cheaper than fossil fuels in more than 30 countries.

--Abu Dhabi plans to build the largest solar plant in the world to be operational by 2019 and plans to generate 7% of its energy from renewables by 2020. The $872 million dollar, 1177 MW plant will be built by a consortium of Japan's Marubeni Corp and China's JinkoSolar Holding.

--According to the California Energy Commission (as of December 2016), 27% of its electricity retail sales in 2016 were generated by renewable energy including wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, and small hydroelectric installations. Of that total 27%, roughly one-fourth was due directly to solar photovoltaic (23%) and solar thermal (3%) facilities. The goal of achieving 50% electrical generation from renewables by 2030 should be easily achieved.

--A January 3, 2017 article in PV Magazine says it all. Entitled "Solar on course to become the world’s cheapest source of energy within the next 10 years," the article says that solar will drop to 73 cents per Watt by 2025, which is when it will drop below coal as the most economical form of energy.

In summary, isn't photonics a GREAT enabler?

About the Author

Gail Overton | Senior Editor (2004-2020)

Gail has more than 30 years of engineering, marketing, product management, and editorial experience in the photonics and optical communications industry. Before joining the staff at Laser Focus World in 2004, she held many product management and product marketing roles in the fiber-optics industry, most notably at Hughes (El Segundo, CA), GTE Labs (Waltham, MA), Corning (Corning, NY), Photon Kinetics (Beaverton, OR), and Newport Corporation (Irvine, CA). During her marketing career, Gail published articles in WDM Solutions and Sensors magazine and traveled internationally to conduct product and sales training. Gail received her BS degree in physics, with an emphasis in optics, from San Diego State University in San Diego, CA in May 1986.

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