The solar industry grew in 44 states in 2016 and outpaced growth in the U.S. economy, according to a new report.
Jobs in Maryland’s solar industry grew 27 percent in 2016, according to the National Solar Job Census 2016, released by the Solar Foundation. This is the seventh annual report tracking jobs and the national demand for solar energy systems.
The report was part of the U.S. Energy and Employment Report, produced by the U.S. Department of Energy. The data was collected in October and November 2016 by phone and emails.
Growth was not evenly distributed across all solar retailers in Maryland.
Solar Energy World in Elkridge grew in 2016, but several competitors struggled to price systems economically, CEO Geoff Mirkin said of Maryland.
Until 2016, growth of the solar energy industry in Maryland was explosive, he said.
The renewable energy credits market has since plummeted. Last February, homeowners saw a return of more than $100 monthly, or quarterly, and now can see a return as low as $20, Mirkin said.
“2016, as a whole, was challenging for the state market,” Mirkin said.
It’s up to solar companies to make it feasible for homeowners, so that installing the panels makes economic sense, not just environmental sense.
Mirkin sold his roofing company and founded Solar Energy World in 2009. His partners, Tope Lala, who operates a roofing company, and a second partner who asked to be unnamed, combined their skill sets to install solar systems.
The cost of materials has gone down dramatically, including solar panels, mounting racks and electricity inverters. The company installed 10 megawatts worth of solar power in 2016, up from six megawatts in 2015. A megawatt is 1,000 kilowatts.
Solar Energy World increased its workforce by close to 30 percent across a range of installation and marketing jobs. In 2017, Solar Energy World expects to see 30 percent growth in installations and personnel again, Mirkin said.
Maryland gained more than 1,100 jobs in 2016, according to the report. This brings the total number of solar jobs in Maryland to more than 5,400.
There are more than 260,000 solar industry jobs across the U.S., according to the report. The largest growth was seen in the project development sector.
Mirkin said he hopes that the industry will grow in Maryland and that Solar Energy World’s competitors can overcome price challenges.
“It’s not easy. We have eight years of experience, and it was an adjustment,” Mirkin said of 2016.
Subsidies and other incentives have gone down since 2009. Depending on the size of a system, a person could get up to $10,000 back from the state for using solar power. Now, that subsidy is $1,000, regardless of system size.
The solar industry has worked to wean itself off subsidies, and Mirkin predicts that the industry is on pace to function eventually without them.
He attributed some of the company’s growth to marketing data and better targeting of potential customers. Also, the company was selected to be the solar installer for MD Sun’s solar co-ops in Montgomery County and the city of Baltimore.
Solar Energy World has a close working relationship with Solar Run, which offers panel leasing options for homeowners through power purchase agreements.
Leasing does not require the upfront costs of buying a system.
Another challenge is finding properties with roofs facing in the correct direction without too much shading.
“The challenge is really finding homes that qualify for solar,” Mirkin said.
The overall percentage of homes with solar is still low, and qualified homes are still out there.
“We still feel like the potential is tremendous,” Mirkin said.
The company is considering opening another office. Its focus has been on Maryland homes, which accounts for 95 percent of its completed jobs. But it also has done projects in Delaware, Washington, D.C., southern Pennsylvania and northwest Virginia.
Follow Samantha Hogan on Twitter: @SAHogan.
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