It has been widely reported that Solar now employs the largest proportion of employers in the United States Electric Power Generation sector, more than coal, oil, and gas combined. 

Thus far the benefits of solar have been focused on savings to consumers and the environmental benefits, but the latest report from the US Department of Energy (DOE) reveals job creation as another major benefit of solar energy. 

David Foster, DOE Senior Advisor on Industrial and Economic Policy highlights the important role new tech in the energy sector plays in growing the economy and jobs. “Whether producing natural gas or solar power at increasingly lower prices or reducing our consumption of energy through smart grids and fuel efficient vehicles, energy innovation is proving itself as the important driver of economic growth in America, producing 14 per cent of the new jobs in 2016.”

Solar energy employed 374,000 people in the year to 2016, making up 43 per cent of the sector’s workforce according to the report.

So what could this look like in New Zealand? We have done some of our own modelling on job growth due to solar and batteries in New Zealand which we included in our report "The True Value of Solar PV and Batteries to New Zealand" released last year (more here).

The direct employment in PV installation businesses can be measured in job years/MW PV installed (so for example 10 job years/MW would mean 10 people employed to install 1 MW PV over 1 year). When an industry is first developing, the job years/MW multiplier is relatively high, and then decreases as the industry matures and becomes more efficient and the workforce more fully utilised. In Australia, in 2009/10, when the amount of PV installed per person was about 10.5 watts per capita (similar to the 9.2 watts per capita currently in New Zealand), the installation of PV generated about 36 job years/MW. In New Zealand, about 8.5 MW is now being installed per  year, and about 350 people are employed on a full-time equivalent (FTE) basis, which produces an employment multiplier of 41 job years/MW. 

The graph below shows estimates of the direct employment for the two possible growth scenarios from MBIE we used throughout the report, the Mixed Renewables and Disruptive scenarios. The variability from year to year occurs because the amount of PV installed each year in the MBIE scenarios varies significantly. For this chart the employment has been averaged over three years, and would otherwise vary even more. Under the Disruptive scenario, the one we think most likely, employment is maintained at about 600 job years, before more than doubling through to 2035. The decrease from then occurs as the amount of new PV decreases, however in reality, it is likely that these peaks and troughs would not be so marked.