A study released by the Centers of Excellence finds that job opportunities in the solar industry are expected to increase by up to 40% in the next three years. The "Solar Industry & Occupations: Distributed and Utility-Scale Generation" report also looked at the availability of community college courses and programs educating potential employees for the solar industry in California. The researchers concluded that community colleges statewide have responded adequately to solar employment demand, with at least 54 colleges statewide providing some type of training.

"Anecdotally, we heard colleges had difficulty matching graduates with jobs, and from conversations with some of the companies, we knew they had a lot of applicants per position,” said Evgeniya Lindstrom, one of the report’s authors and the director of the Inland Empire & San Diego/Imperial Center of Excellence. "What colleges need to do now is diversify their offerings to address other skills needed in the solar workforce."

California is home to 3,500 solar firms employing 25,000 people today. The report projects that the state could add as many as 18,000 jobs to that number by 2015. Manufacturing and distribution firms are projected to grow the fastest, increasing by 40% and adding 5,500 jobs in the next year.

The field of distributed solar generation — defined as small-scale, decentralized installations — is expected to witness the most growth. Within this field, nearly 2,000 firms in California specialize in installation, manufacturing and distribution. Among these, the installation subsector employs the most people and is projected to add 8,000-10,000 new jobs by 2015. Employment in the utility-scale industry, which encompasses large-scale projects generating over 1 megawatt, will add about two jobs for every planned megawatt of a project, with most short-term construction jobs.

The report found that the community college system alone is meeting and potentially exceeding the market demand for solar installers in California. It was estimated that between 1,700 and 3,300 students would graduate from solar installation programs in 2011, while projections indicated a need for about 2,300 solar installers in that timeframe.

Research also suggests community colleges need to expand the knowledge areas of their existing programs to other solar occupations since the demand for photovoltaic installers has been met. The greatest challenge listed by community college administrators and faculty surveyed was a lack of employment opportunities for students. The study recommends community colleges develop and offer courses on the basics of energy production, power plant management and solar technologies. These concepts are particularly relevant for colleges in Inland Southern California and the Central Valley.

The report focused on the solar industry within three regions of California: the San Francisco Bay Area, Central California (including the Central Valley and Central Coast), and Southern California. The Greater Sacramento region was studied in a previous environmental scan published in July 2011, though some of those findings were included in this report.

Michelle Marquez, director of the Central Valley and South Central Coast Center of Excellence, is a co-author of the report. The Centers of Excellence collaborated with The Solar Foundation and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) for this study.

The report can be accessed at www.coeccc.net/solar.