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US solar industry now employs more workers than oil and gas, says report

The US solar industry now employs more workers than oil and gas, a new report from the Solar Foundation claims, with most of the jobs in power panel installation.

Last year, the US solar industry grew by 20% for a third year in a row, according tothe foundation’s National Solar Job Census 2015. By the end of 2015, it employed nearly 209,000 solar workers, more than those employed in oil and gas extraction.

However, the growth in the solar industry was not shared equally across all types of jobs. Manufacturing, project development, and sales jobs have all remained steady over the past five years. Only the jobs in installation increased, from 43,934 jobs in 2010 to 119,931 in 2015.

Jobs created by the US solar industry
Jobs created by the US solar industry Photograph: National Solar Job Census 2015

“Employees of installation companies accounted for 22,900 or 65% of the new jobs added in 2015,” according to the report. “The US solar installation sector employs 77% more people than the domestic coal mining industry. Since 2014, solar installation has created more jobs than oil and gas pipeline construction and crude petroleum and natural gas extraction combined.”

According to the US Department of Labor, there were just 184,500 Americans working in oil and gas extraction in December 2015 – nearly 17,000 fewer workers than a year ago.

While compared to a year ago the number of oil and gas jobs has gone down, five years ago there were only 160,000 jobs in the field. The industry peaked in employment terms a year ago when it reached 201,200 jobs.

Last month, there were 191,900 mining jobs in the US, down from 203,700 a year ago.

Nevertheless, the US Department of Labor continues to focus on the positive effects of cheap oil.

“The average American household – because of gas prices going below $2 a gallon – they had an additional $500 to $800 in their pocket to spend last year. That’s enormously helpful and what happens is they spend it. You have more consumer demand – the business have to hire,” Tom Perez, the US Secretary of Labor, said Friday.

“So while certainly we have seen the mining sector suffer an undeniable decline in employment, on balance for the American consumer gasoline below $2 is a boon.”

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