Good jobs in the solar industry are on the rise, while coal plants keep retiring. But what do those sunny numbers hide?
Photo via Wikimedia Commons
There’s about as many U.S. jobs in the solar power industry as the coal industry, Vox pointed out yesterday. According to the Solar Foundation, as of 2014 there were more than 173,000 people employed in creating, selling, and installing solar panels on American homes and businesses. Vox’s Brad Plumer compared that to the miners, power plant workers, and transporters in the U.S. coal industry and found that number to be roughly equal, though he admitted to “this isn’t a perfect comparison.”
One reason it’s hard to get an accurate read on these employment numbers is that the solar industry is still projected to grow rapidly, topping 200,000 jobs by the end of 2015 according to some estimates. Meanwhile, the coal industry is shrinking as power plants continue to shut down across the United States. Since 2011, nearly a quarter of coal generation sites have been retired.
But these sunny numbers for solar hide what some business analysts think is still the biggest issue for the alternative energy: it’s expensive and inefficient. Despite employing roughly the same amount of people, solar provides less than half a percent of the U.S.’ total energy. Coal, on the other hand, still provides almost 40 percent.
However, as the solar industry expands, it should realize some economies of scale, especially in the sales department. Plumer also points out that if one factored in all the negative environmental and health implications coal carries with it, solar and other alternative energy sources would look a lot more viable in comparison.