Solar energy jobs soaring across country

As solar energy becomes more prevalent in the U.S., jobs in the industry are growing at a rapid pace.

The position of solar photovoltaic system installer is projected to be the fastest-growing occupation in the U.S. between 2016 and 2026, according to the Employment Projections: 2016-26 Summary released Oct. 24 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The agency expects employment in this role to grow "extremely fast," at 105.3 percent.

Solar panel installers now make up the largest share of solar jobs in the U.S.

Developing infrastructure
Quartz attributes the employment growth to increasing solar capacity, which has expanded at an average rate of 72 percent annually. In the second quarter of 2017, the U.S. reached 47.1 gigawatts of total installed capacity, which is enough to power 9.1 million American homes, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Wind turbine technician jobs are expected to have the second-fastest employment growth from 2016 to 2026, at 96.1 percent. In comparison, the third-fastest-growing job in the BLS list, home health aide, has an expected growth rate of just 47 percent.

A Bloomberg analysis of the BLS data found that together, solar PV installers and turbine technicians will create jobs twice as fast as any other industry in the U.S. The two jobs have median annual incomes of $39,000 and $52,000, respectively.

While six of the 30 fastest-growing occupations recognized by the BLS were related to energy production, the remaining four positions were in oil, gas and mining, and were all estimated to have less than 30 percent growth.

The solar industry added 51,000 positions last year, bringing the total number of U.S. employees in the industry to more than 260,000, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. Employment in the industry was 25 percent higher in 2016 compared to 2015, The Solar Foundation detailed.

States ramping up capacity
California had the most solar industry jobs in 2016 of any state in the country, with 100,050 positions, according to The Solar Foundation. Massachusetts followed, with 14,582 solar jobs, while Texas, Nevada and Florida rounded out the top five.

In the foundation's analysis of solar industry employment, it found that the majority of the jobs were in installation, with 137,133 employees working in this area. Some 38,121 jobs were in solar panel and related equipment manufacturing, 34,400 were in project development and 32,147 were in sales and distribution. There were 8,601 solar companies operating in the U.S. last year.

According to a CBS News analysis of the figures, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Alaska experienced the fastest solar job growth between 2015 and 2016.

As the site noted, many states are reaping additional employment and economic benefits because they are expanding wind energy capacity alongside solar power capacity. Rural areas in particular can see growth from wind energy as it requires wide open spaces for turbine construction.

Many cities have been expanding their efforts to use alternative energy sources. The St. Louis Board of Aldermen recently approved the city's commitment to using 100 percent renewable energy by 2035, Wind Power Engineering reported.

As solar energy becomes more prevalent in the U.S., jobs in the industry are growing at a rapid pace.