Image courtesey of Jorge Edward Inga/Wikimedia Commons.

While every week seems to bring a fresh round of job cuts in the oil industry, solar energy job growth was a bright spot in the energy sector last year.

According to the Solar Foundation’s National Solar Jobs Census 2015, U.S. solar energy jobs grew by 20.2 percent from November 2014 to November 2015 and the sector now employs about 208,859 people.

The census found that the solar industry continues to grow faster than expected, adding workers nearly 12 times faster than the overall economy.

Solar energy jobs accounted for one out of every 83 jobs created in the U.S. over the past year, or about 1.2 percent of all new jobs.

“Our long-term research shows that solar industry employment has grown by 123 percent in the past six years, resulting in nearly 115,000 domestic living-wage jobs,” the Solar Foundation said.

The solar installation sector remained the largest employer in the solar industry with 119,931 workers, a 24 percent year-over-year increase and up by 173 percent since 2010.

Employees of installation companies accounted for 22,900, or 65 percent, of the new solar jobs added in 2015.

Job growth in the solar energy sector comes as the oil and gas industry continues to shed workers, with oil and gas job cuts now reaching well over 200,000 since crude prices began falling in 2014.

The U.S. solar installation sector now employs 77 percent more people than the domestic coal mining industry, according to the Solar Foundation.

Since 2014, solar installation sector has also created more jobs than oil and gas pipeline construction and crude and natural gas extraction combined, the report said.

The U.S. solar industry expects total employment to grow at an annual rate of 14.7 percent by the end of 2016, nearly 11 times faster than the projected growth rates for the mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction industry during the same period.

However, wages in the solar installation industry have not caught up with the pay on offer at oil and gas firms.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, employees in the oil and gas extraction sector earned an average $44.00 per hour in November 2015, up from $40.77 per hour in November 2014.

Solar installers earned a median wage of $21 per hour in 2014, a 5 percent year-over-year bump, while manufacturers paid assemblers a median wage of $18 per hour, according to the Solar Foundation.

Sales representatives and solar designers earned the highest median hourly wage at $28.85 and $26.92 per hour, respectively.

While those wages lag behind the oil and gas extraction sector they were still well above the national media wage of $17.04 per hour in 2014.


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