Despite sluggish economic growth, the renewable energy industry continues to defy all expectations. Solar jobs are being added at a robust rate.

In November of 2012, the Solar Foundation published a report detailing how the PV sector had created nearly 14,000 new solar jobs over the previous 12 months. This represents a staggering 13.2% increase in solar employment compared to the national average of 2.3% for most other industries.

More recently, Ecotech Institute conducted a survey of statewide renewable energy portfolios, LEED projects, and green incentives before releasing its own Q1 2013 Clean Job Index an in-depth report whose findings closely mirror those of the Solar Foundation.

According to Ecotech Institute’s Clean Job Index:

  • From January 1 to April 1 of 2013, solar, wind, LEED, and other related green sectors added nearly 750,000 new jobs.

These numbers suggest that the renewable energy industry is not simply immune to the recession — it’s actually one of the strongest job creation engines that we have.

What’s particularly notable is that this job growth is not limited by sector. Although solar jobs continue to lead the way, other green power sources and energy efficiency initiatives have enjoyed phenomenal growth of late:

  • The number of alternative energy refueling stations grew to 23,000 (a 7% increase over the previous quarter)
  • 110 million sq. feet of new building space became LEED-certified
  • Per capita energy consumption decreased across the entire nation thanks to net metering programs, energy efficiency policies, and utility-based renewable energy portfolios

Equally impressive, green employment opportunities were not limited to the usual culprits like California and Texas. Nearly every state reported job growth, with many of the largest gains coming from regions with historically weak track records in renewable energy. Standouts include:

  • Alabama
  • Iowa
  • Michigan
  • Mississippi
  • Nebraska
  • West Virginia

What’s Driving Growth in Solar Jobs?

There are many different ways of rationalizing America’s rapid transition to a more sustainable economy:

  • Oil spills and freak super-storms have helped bring unprecedented urgency to the green movement
  • Price drops and technological advancements have helped bring solar energy into the mainstream
  • Fossil fuel prices are on the rise — while many of the most promising renewable energy technologies harness free resources like sunshine and wind

But probably the biggest factor is sheer political will, which perhaps is merely a reflection of the reasons listed above — elected officials must cater to the needs of a better-informed and more environmentally engaged constituency.

Ecotech Institute’s Index reveals a strong correlation between job creation and supportive green policies. The more aggressive a state’s renewable energy portfolio, the more renewable energy opportunities emerge.

Rather than act as barriers to economic growth, government-mandated green incentives and stricter energy efficiency standards are actually the primary factors fueling America’s climb out of the global recession.

If these supportive green policies continue, experts estimate that as many as 100 million new solar, wind, and LEED jobs could emerge over the next 2 decades. More severe environmental catastrophes coupled with larger technological leaps in renewable energy could push this green job estimate even higher.

About the author: Ryan McNeill is president of Renewable Energy Corporation, a Maryland-based solar panel installation company. Based in Baltimore, Renewable Energy Corp. serves all of Maryland, Northern Virginia, Southern Pennsylvania and Washington D.C.