A recent article in the New York Times extolled the growth in renewables jobs, suggesting solar jobs were booming but the data is very misleading at best.
A great friend from New York with no axe to grind on energy issues recently pointed me to an article in the New York Times suggesting solar job creation was absolutely booming. He knew I would be interested and wondered what I thought. I told him it was likely to be phony data but that I would check it out. I did. I was correct.
The article, from yesterday’s edition, was entitled “Today’s Energy Jobs Are in Solar, Not Coal” and included this chart:
It would easy to focus on the greater number of natural gas and oil jobs and not give the story much more thought. I’m not much interested in coal, after all. The solar numbers, though, are ones I’ve seen before and they’re hugely exaggerated, suggesting something that is simply not true. They distort the record and prevent any rational discussion of the energy economy.
The sources of the data are listed in fine print at the bottom of the story:
Sources: The Department of Energy’s U.S. Energy and Employment Report; The Solar Foundation; Bureau of Labor Statistics
One can also read the full report here. As both the data sources note and the report indicate, the principal source of the solar jobs data is not government data or any other independent source but, rather, the Solar Foundation. Indeed, page 37 of the report includes a Footnote No. 33 (mostly obscured by a chart) indicating the precise source is the “Solar Foundation National Solar Jobs Census Series.”
The Solar Foundation tells us what it’s all about (emphasis from original):
Our mission is to accelerate adoption of the world’s most abundant energy source. Through our leadership, research, and capacity building, we create transformative solutions to achieve a prosperous future in which solar technology is integrated into all aspects of our lives.
The Solar Foundation is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to advancing solar energy use worldwide. We believe that increasing access to this clean, abundant, and affordable energy source will lift up people’s lives and bring about a prosperous future for all.
Founded in 1977, The Solar Foundation was relaunched in its current form in 2010. Today, we combine decades of experience with an entrepreneurial outlook and a focus on getting things done. While we firmly believe that solar is a key part of our energy future, The Solar Foundation has no industry affiliation. With our reputation for impartiality and rigorous analysis, we are on the front lines of the change toward a bright solar future.
No bias there, of course. The organization even reminds us it has a reputation for “reputation for impartiality and rigorous analysis.” So, there. Except there’s this; the principal funders of the Solar Foundation and their Solar Jobs Census are (emphasis added):
Energy Foundation, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Tilia Fund, Solar Energy Industries Association, Swinerton, E.ON, sPower, SunLink, Sungevity, Sierra Club, the California Energy Commission, and the State of New Mexico Energy Minerals and Natural Resources Department.
Yes, they’re a collection of fractivist special interests, including the Energy Foundation which largely exists to promote the renewables investments of folks such as the Simons family of hedge-fund fame and Sungevity, the recently bankrupted solar company, not to mention other solar companies looking to feed at the public trough and the forever non-objective Sierra Club. Moreover, this is what The Solar Foundation (TSF) said in its latest IRS 990 return about the census:
The Solar Foundation made significant strides in 2015 through its work on the Solar Jobs Census which provided relevant workforce and employment data to policymakers, industry leaders, and other energy stakeholders In early 2015, TSF published its annual National Solar Jobs Census report (Census 2014). Shortly thereafter, TSF updated its solarstates org map and published six stand-alone State Solar Jobs Census reports which provided stakeholders with important Jobs and policy information for informed decision making.
The TSF “Solar Census,” in other words, is a lobbying tool for the hedge fund families of special interests who finance it; nothing more. And, the real numbers of solar jobs? Well, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are less than 3,000 individuals nationwide who are employed in solar electric generation:
The Bureau also reported on solar photovoltaic installer jobs here, indicating nationwide total employment of 8,870 jobs as of 2016, those solar jobs being spread around like this:
So, where did all those other solar jobs identified by the Solar Foundation and touted by the Times go? Well, the answer my friend is “blowing’ in the wind” with the all the other self-serving guesswork, hot air and pap put out by the the Solar Foundation and the New York Times.