Workers install solar panels on the roof of a parking structure at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). Photo by Dennis Schroeder, NREL

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To achieve an inclusive, equitable transition to a fully decarbonized electricity system by 2035, the solar workforce will need to grow from approximately 346,000 workers in 2022 to between 500,000 and 1.5 million workers by 2035. This expansion of the solar workforce is vital to achieving our clean energy goals, which is why the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) funds solar workforce development programs to prepare and sustain a skilled and diverse clean energy workforce. SETO supports a variety of research initiatives to assess and address the needs of a growing clean energy economy to foster industry growth and ensure employees can thrive in the clean energy transition, allowing communities across the country to reap the benefits of a robust solar energy workforce.

Benefits of the Solar Workforce

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Household Savings

A well-trained, residential solar energy workforce supports safe and reliable rooftop solar installation while bringing economic stability to households across the country. SETO is working to develop and guide local workforce training and education programs to ensure the solar industry reflects local diversity, opportunities are widely accessible, and economic growth reaches areas where it provides the greatest benefit. Expanding the solar workforce in this way creates an ecosystem of prosperity—one that creates well-paying jobs with good benefits that support healthy households, particularly in communities affected by discrimination, economic exclusion, and exploitation.

An inclusive clean energy transition requires equitable access to financing. This is why SETO supports training for solar lending professionals, a virtual series designed for community-based lending practitioners interested in expanding their fundamentals of solar finance knowledge to expand solar financing services to underserved borrowers to lend deeper into communities. Equipping professionals with the knowledge of solar lending, particularly among underserved borrowers, results in more opportunities for solar loan financing, leading to more rooftop solar installations and household energy bill savings.

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Economic Opportunities

A decarbonized power grid will create millions of cross-sector jobs, and SETO is helping to guide this boom of solar economic opportunity. In the past decade, solar industry job growth has increased more than 170% across all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. This notable job growth represents the largest employment increase—12,256 workers (+3.7%)—out of all clean energy sectors from 2021 to 2022. More than 260,000 people already work in solar jobs, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects solar installers to be one of the fastest growing occupations over the next decade. As economic opportunities continue to bloom across the solar landscape, SETO’s workforce development initiatives and small business and entrepreneurial investments are helping prepare the country to meet the growing demand for a skilled U.S. clean energy workforce. The Advancing Equity Through Workforce Partnerships program supports an inclusive workforce with opportunities for union membership, and in Philadelphia, the SETO-funded Bright Solar Futures program [video] is educating high school students and other young adults to start their solar careers. SETO is also helping pave sustainable solar career pathways for job seekers, including initiatives for hiring veterans and local job training opportunities.

Power tower with lock

Grid Resilience and Reliability

With the expected influx of solar and other distributed energy resources onto the power grid, preparing the U.S. utility workforce to manage this transition is vital to maintaining grid reliability. Utility sector professionals who understand the complexities of the clean energy grid will enable a smooth and effective transition. SETO is preparing the workforce for our nation’s changing energy portfolio through programs like the Solar District Cup and Grid Engineering for Accelerated Renewable Energy Deployment (GEARED), which challenge college students to think about solutions to the issues associated with adding more renewables onto the grid. These programs ready current and future utility-sector professionals to operate the electric grid with increasingly higher levels of solar electricity.

Fist emerging from lightning bolts

Owning your Power Production

Developing and sustaining a robust solar workforce requires an economic ecosystem that makes installing and maintaining solar energy resources more feasible. From fire code enforcement to real estate and homebuilding practices, having a solar-ready workforce among indirect and related industries allows for more equitable deployment and makes it easier for people to own their power production.

Programs such as Solar Training and Education for Professionals (STEP) help address gaps in solar training and energy education both within the solar workforce and in professions that play a crucial role in solar deployment, such as real estate, finance, insurance, fire and code enforcement, and state regulation. Projects funded under STEP are working to establish new credentials in solar operations and maintenance and ensure solar instructors are well connected to solar employers, veterans are connected to solar training institutions, and engineering students are trained on how to add increased distributed energy to the grid, all of which will allow more Americans to own their power production.

SETO is also committed to bringing solar manufacturing stateside and growing the solar manufacturing workforce equitably and inclusively through efforts like the Solar Manufacturing Incubator, solar business support, and the “Scaling the U.S. Solar Manufacturing Workforce” request for information.

Light bulb with leaves inside

Environment

Solar operations and maintenance professionals help maximize energy outputs of solar power assets and keep solar energy systems working for longer, which minimizes strain on the environment.

Improving and growing the U.S. solar workforce accelerates deployment, which replaces fossil-fuels and helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions that affect the planet. Working in the clean energy industry allows individuals to play a meaningful part in addressing climate change while pursuing fulfilling careers. According to a comprehensive study of solar employers and employees, the majority of solar employees report a positive working environment, with 73% of respondents agreeing that their firm cultivates a culture of respect, equity, and positive recognition of differences.

What’s Happening at SETO?

  • Advancing Equity Through Workforce Partnerships: This $13.5 million funding program invests in the development of collaborative workforce programs that facilitate the rapid deployment of solar energy technologies while supporting an inclusive workforce with opportunities for union membership.
  • Solar Manufacturing Incubator: This $24 million funding program seeks to accelerate and increase U.S. domestic manufacturing across the solar industry supply chain and expand private investment in America's solar manufacturing sector.
  • Solar Workers Needed for National Lab Study: Researchers at NREL are seeking solar workers for 1-hour, one-on-one interviews to inform a study about the solar workforce. Learn more about the opportunity and how to participate.
  • Scaling the U.S. Solar Manufacturing Workforce: This request for information seeks to collect feedback on the challenges and opportunities associated with scaling the domestic solar manufacturing workforce.
  • Solar District Cup: This competition is designed to inspire students to consider new career opportunities, learn industry-relevant skills, engage with the professional marketplace, and prepare to become leaders in distributed solar energy.  
  • STEP Funding Program: STEP addresses gaps in solar training and energy education, both within the solar workforce and in professions that play a crucial role in solar deployment.
  • Fellowships and Research Opportunities: SETO keeps an ongoing list of available fellowship and research opportunities across the office.

DOE Efforts in this Space

Resources

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