Florida Sees Robust Solar Job Growth As Industry Slightly Dims Nationwide

Feb 12, 2019

Florida is seeing strong job growth in the solar sector.

Solar-related jobs in Florida increased by 21 percent last year to 10,358; according to a report released Tuesday by The Solar Foundation.

Nationally the outlook wasn’t as bright, with a decline of nearly 8,000 solar jobs across the country, which amounts to a 3.2 percent drop, according to the National Solar Jobs Census 2018.

The foundation blamed the nationwide slowdown in part on the industry's waiting to seeing how solar tariffs play out.

Solar Foundation Senior Director Ed Gilliland told WJCT News one of the drivers fueling solar job growth in Florida is the state’s decision to allow solar leasing, which essentially allows a third party to install the solar and pay its upfront cost and then lease the system back to homeowners or businesses.

“It's actually encouraged some of the larger national solar installers to come into the state and aggressively pursue business. As a result, the solar installation on residential increased 62 percent for the first three quarters of 2018 compared to the first three quarters of 2017,” Gilliland said.

He added that the decision by utilities to scale up their solar operations is also driving growth in Florida.

“So certainly we're seeing utilities around the country such as Florida Power and Light and JEA get more into solar energy. Not only because of its low cost, [but] because of its predictability,” said Gilliland.

He said utilities are drawn to solar because once it’s developed, the costs are fixed, unlike fossil fuels, which are subject to price swings.

Jacksonville is expected to be a solar growth driver in Florida in 2019 because of Jinko Solar, which built a new solar panel manufacturing plant on the city’s Westside.

Gilliland said that plant came online too late to be counted in the 2018 numbers, but it should be a significant contributor this year.

JinkoSolar announced last March that when its Jacksonville plant becomes fully operational, it will have the capacity to build 400 megawatts of solar modules, or more than 1 million solar panels a year.

“Jinko’s 2019 U.S. product growth is looking very healthy, with big orders already secured,” said JinkoSolar's Gener Miao during a November call, as our news partner the Jacksonville Daily Record reported.

The Jacksonville Daily Record reported the plant is expected to create about 200 jobs.

Of the approximately 155,000 solar jobs in the U.S., about two-thirds of them are in the installation and project development sector, according to the Solar Foundation Census.

Bill Bortzfield can be reached at bbortzfield@wjct.org, 904-358-6349 or on Twitter at @BortzInJax.