On the Bright Side, Solar Sees Record
“[Solar] has grown an astounding 53 percent in the last four years alone, adding nearly 50,000 jobs,” said Andrea Lueck, executive director of the Solar Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting photovoltaics.
Cheaper raw materials, federal and state incentives and a concerted effort by utilities to reduce carbon emissions have helped the industry exceed expectations, with stronger-than-expected growth in nearly every part of the country.
And solar firms expect to get even bigger in 2014.
The majority of these jobs are in photovoltaic installation – assembling racks and wiring PV panels. It’s electrical work and the IBEW has been aggressively pursuing both solar workers and solar jobs through training and organizing.
In 2013, San Diego Local 569 built over 500 megawatts of renewable energy projects, mostly solar, while in nearby Imperial Valley, ground zero for renewables in Southern California, the local has increased its membership by 900 percent in one year – nearly all of it from solar, said Business Manager Johnny Simpson.
Further north, Riverside Local 440 Business Manager Robert Frost reports that 60 percent of his membership is working on photovoltaic projects.
“IBEW members do the full install of solar panels from the moment they come on the construction site until they are operational: building the racks, mounting, doing up the connections and terminals all the way to the switchyard,” said Frost.
Even less sunny climes, like New Jersey, are seeing industry growth.
“Solar power has been a godsend,” said Patterson Local 102 Business Manager Patrick Delle Cava. “We would have been dying on the vine these last couple years without it,” he said.
IBEW organizers are also working to keep renewable jobs good ones by demanding strong safety and licensing requirements for solar workers, while providing state-of-the-art training in all aspects of green technology.
"The moment those things hit the sun, we're talking live electricity here," Brockton, Mass., Local 223 Business Manager David Fenton told the Electrical Worker last year. "The basic components of a solar array are the same as any other electrical system. We need to have state-licensed electricians doing this work.”
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Watch Local 569 members at work on a solar farm below: