Everyone in Washington is scrambling to understand how we jumpstartour economy and deliver long term economic growth – especially in themidst of rising oil prices which threaten our fragile economic recovery. One ray of sunshine – solar.
Last week, before the House Energy and Commerce Committee,Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade, the President of theSolar Industry Association, Rhone Resch, delivered some good news on solar’s role in spurring economic growth. The USsolar industry grew from $3.6 billion in 2009 to $6.0 billion in 2010, a growth rate of 67%. Today, there are over 100,000 American citizensemployed by the solar industry – the industry is a robust, fullyfunctioning ecosystem.
We typically think of solar jobs as the guys putting the panels onroofs. And that true, but it doesn’t tell the whole story of this vastvalue chain, delivering jobs and economic growth in every segment andevery region in the country. Yes, solar does employ lots of small-towninstallers and roofers, electricians, plumbers, and constructionworkers, many of whom were laid off in the recent housing marketcollapse. But today, Solar also employs 25,000 American in the manufacturing sector, and thatnumber is expected to grow by 36% between 2010 and 2011. Moreover, morethan 2,000 companies across America manufacture and supply products andservices to the solar industry. Those photovoltaic (PV) manufacturingfacilities are found in 17 states and are producing all the primarycomponents of a PV system, including polysilicon, wafers, cells, solar modules, inverters, and mounting and electrical components.
But we can’t rest on our laurels. China, Germany, Italy and Japan are investing heavily in solar. After decades of leadership in the1970s and 1980s, the US in now in fourth place and playing catch up.Today, the US is a net exporter of solar energy goods and services – aclaim that is hard to make in most other industries today in these tough economic times.
The US needs to strengthen its federal commitment to solar, by making permanent the manufacturing and investment tax credit for renewableenergy and by setting long term goals for renewable energy generation.While inaction may dominate the federal landscape, states have played apivot leadership role in developing solar programs designed to deliverthese types of economic development by jumpstarting markets. This year,Texas and New York are considering similar pieces of legislation andhave the opportunity to grab a big piece of this developing market.Let’s hope they’ll see the light.