Celebrating Solar Workers This Labor Day

As we celebrate the social and economic achievements of American workers this weekend, let's not leave out our hardworking sun and the laborers that go with it.

While millions Americans travel to a beach, lake, river, or just the backyard of friends or family, the sun will be hard at work -- lighting our days, heating our water, and cooling our homes.

And then there are all the solar workers themselves. With more than 142,000 competitively paid employees, the solar industry creates twice as many jobs per dollar invested in coal and nearly triple the number of jobs invested for in gas.

In state after state, growth in the clean energy sector, and particularly in the solar energy sector, has dampened the blow of the recession and buoyed a quicker recovery. Employment in the solar industry grew nearly 20% last year, 10 times the average national job growth rate, making solar among the fastest growing industries in the nation.

Jobs in the solar industry are inherently local. From assessing the best places for panels, to applying for the proper permits, to installing panels and solar thermal systems, few of the jobs that go with developing solar energy can be outsourced.

What's more, solar power installed at the point of use -- on the rooftops of homes, big box stores, and the like -- is more efficient than our traditional method of distributing energy through long transmission lines from centralized power plants.

All of these advantages come in addition to the environmental benefits of solar, of course. It uses little water, creates no air or water pollution, and can be a central piece of our strategy to avoid the worst impacts of global warming.

Solar energy has grown leaps and bounds in the United States in recent years, while its costs have dropped by 60 percent in the last three years alone, and that's been good news for workers and the future of our planet.

Yet the United States has barely scratched the surface when it comes to developing solar energy. A comparison to Germany, the world's solar leader, is instructive. Our country is larger by orders of magnitude, and most of it has at least twice as much sun. But Germany still has more than three times as much solar capacity developed as we do.

How can we catch up? The sun is doing the best it can, and so are our solar energy workers. What we need are more hardworking policies, and more government leaders to promote them. Cities and towns can streamline permitting and reduce fees. States can set renewable energy goals and requirements, and allow solar energy companies to sell directly to consumers such as large retail stores and shopping centers. Utility regulators can ease the process by which solar installations are connected to the grid, so that more of the community benefits.

With policies like these in place, the United States could get 10 percent of its energy from the sun by 2030. Then, in future Labor Days, we'll have even more workers and a cleaner environment to celebrate.