Solar energy boosters have a lot to be happy about these days. The growth in their industry has been tremendous, so much so that proponents are now able to wave around some pretty impressive stats. Like this: There are now over 173,000 solar jobs in the United States.
But here’s a perhaps less appreciated reality — solar is also catching on in a lot of states that we don’t traditionally think of as being liberal, do-gooder territory.
That’s one upshot of a new report out from the Solar Foundation, which breaks down solar jobs on a state by state basis. When you look at it this way, then yes, liberal California is the titan: It has 54,690 solar workers now (as of late 2014), or nearly one third of the national total.
However, look more closely at the map below, and you’ll see that solar is making inroads in a lot of other states, too, and the places where that’s happening are pretty politically diverse.
The fairly conservative state of Arizona (#3 overall for solar jobs) now has 9,170 of solar jobs. Very conservative Texas (#6) has 6,965 of them — having seen a 68 percent job growth in just one year.
The list continues: the swing state of Nevada (#7) now has 5,900 solar jobs, whereas just a year ago it only had 2,800. That’s a staggering 146 percent growth rate. And North Carolina (#8) has 5,600, having shot up 80 percent since last year.
Rounding out the top 10 solar job states are two more swing states — Florida (#9) and Ohio (#10), with 4,800 and 4,300 solar jobs, respectively.
Also of interest, though not in the top 10, is very conservative Georgia, which now has 2,890 solar jobs and has seen a mind-boggling 261 percent increase in solar employment in just two years.
Perhaps most intriguing in the group is Nevada, which now ranks #1 in the country for solar jobs per capita, according to the new Solar Foundation report. In one sense, it’s a no-brainer for Nevada to lead in solar, given that it is extraordinarily sunny. Indeed, scientists have calculated — on a purely theoretical basis, of course — that covering a 100 by 100 mile square of the Nevada desert with solar panels would be enough to power the entire country.
But for the growth of an industry like this one, politics matters as much as physics, and Nevada’s Republican governor, Brian Sandoval, has been a big solar booster, as has Republican senator, Dean Heller. Sandoval in particular seems quite proud of the news about his state’s solar industry growth:
On Thursday, I wrote about how conservatives aren’t against clean energy or energy conservation — though they don’t like environmentalist presumptions very much. But if the message about clean energy is framed in a way that isn’t ideologically offensive, and if the dollars and cents add up — and above all, if jobs are being created — conservatives can definitely be on board.
It doesn’t hurt that there’s something about solar that appeals to a libertarian style of thinking — you generate your own power, rather than being dependent upon some utility somewhere. It increases your independence, your economic liberty. No wonder that in Florida right now, political conservatives are among those clamoring for more “solar choice.”
So there are many ways that solar power is not actually so stereotypically liberal at all. When you look across the United States, it seems that might explain what’s happening with solar right now.