The future of Minnesota’s solar workforce is looking bright. Employment in the renewable energy’s local industry has more than doubled over the last three years, according to The Solar Foundation’s National Solar Jobs Census released Tuesday.
In 2018 alone, the solar employee count in Minnesota increased by eight percent year-over-year as “solar panel installer” ranked as the state’s fastest-growing job last year. Conversely, jobs in the solar sector declined 3.2 percent nationwide.
The number of solar jobs in Minnesota increased from 1,995 in 2015 to 4,602 in 2018—averaging an annual growth of 869 positions—The Solar Foundation reported. Outside of installation, those newly created jobs include manufacturing, sales and distribution, product development, operations, and maintenance roles.
In the nation, Minnesota now ranks 15th for total solar jobs.
“Minnesota’s commitment to a vibrant clean energy economy is creating new jobs and business opportunities while helping our environment,” says Minnesota commerce commissioner Steve Kelley, whose agency administers the state’s energy policies and programs.
One particular state policy Kelley points to as helping expand Minnesota’s solar industry is the Solar Energy Standard, which requires that 1.5 percent of electricity sales for investor-owned utility companies must be from solar energy by 2020. The policy’s goal thereafter is 10 percent by 2030.
“I’m proud that Minnesota continues to be a clean energy leader in the Midwest,” said Minnesota Governor Tim Walz in a statement.
Washington, D.C.-based The Solar Foundation believes solar job growth across the nation decreased in 2018 due to uncertainty over pending tariffs on imported solar technology. The concern was such that solar projects and installations were either postponed or scaled back during the first three quarters of the year.
Andrea Luecke, president and executive director at The Solar Foundation, says Americans are now more frequently buying into low-cost solar energy solutions for both their homes and businesses.
“Despite two challenging years, the long-term outlook for this industry remains positive,” says Luecke. Installation costs have plummeted from about $6.65 per watt in 2010 for residential systems to $2.89 per watt in 2018, according to the Foundation.
She stresses, though, that continued progress in combating climate change with solar energy applications will depend in part on leadership in place at the federal, state, and local levels. Locally, Walz sees plenty of opportunity for the solar industry to flourish.
“While our solar workforce continued to grow last year,” says Walz, “we need to do even more to develop and deploy renewable energy and continue to build a strong clean energy economy in Minnesota.”
Adds Kelley: “We can expect even more solar growth thanks to declining prices, technological innovation, rising demand from both consumers and businesses, and forward-looking public policies.”