Is now the time for solar power to enter the mainstream? According to a recent brief issued by the Department of Energy (DOE), the answer is yes. The brief follows the Senate’s approval of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, a “historic investment,” according to a statement from President Biden, in various forms of infrastructure, including clean energy and the climate crisis.

“President Biden’s proposed investments in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal and Build Back Better Agenda will invest in the infrastructure, manufacturing, innovation, and incentives for solar energy that we need to grow good-paying, union jobs at home, make solar energy affordable for all American families, and accelerate the deployment of net-zero energy across the country. These critical investments will unlock the full potential of solar and help fight the climate crisis,” reads a White House press statement.

According to the brief issued by the DOE, “solar is the fastest-growing source of new electricity generation in the nation – growing 4,000 percent over the past decade – and will play an important role in reaching the administration’s goals.”

The brief points to preliminary results of an upcoming analysis by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) that says “to reach a largely decarbonized electricity sector by 2035, solar deployment would need to accelerate to three to four times faster than its current rate by 2030. Large-scale decarbonization of the electricity sector could move solar from 3 percent of generation today to over 40 percent by 2035 …”

Increased adoption of solar power could also create new job opportunities. “A pathway to a largely decarbonized electricity sector by 2035 can add millions of new jobs across clean energy technologies, including potentially 500,000–1,500,000 people working in solar by 2035. Ensuring that federal investments include strong labor standards, project labor agreements, prevailing wages, and a free and fair choice to join a union and bargain collectively can diversify pathways to high quality solar jobs,” reads the brief.

First Solar is just one solar technology company that is continuing to grow in response to increasing interest. Just this week the company broke ground on its third manufacturing facility in Ohio at a ceremony that was attended by U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh, as well as the Lieutenant Governor of Ohio, Jon Husted, and U.S. Representatives Bob Latta (OH-05) and Marcy Kaptur (OH-09). The new 3.3 gigawatt facility, which is scheduled to begin operations in the first half of 2023, represents a $680 million investment.

“First Solar’s new factory in Ohio is a model of President Biden’s vision for keeping America competitive by investing in clean energy and creating good jobs,” said Secretary Walsh. “Not only does this facility advance innovative manufacturing for a sustainable future, First Solar is also investing in its workers through skills training, competitive pay, and robust benefits. Empowering all of America’s workers is how we’ll build back a better economy and win the future.”

The facility is forecast to create over 700 permanent jobs in addition to the more than 1,600 people that First Solar currently employs in Ohio.
According to a statement from First Solar, the new facility will be one of the most advanced of its kind in the solar industry, allowing it to produce an anticipated average of one module roughly every 2.75 seconds across its three-factory Ohio footprint once it achieves its full production capacity. The facility will combine highly skilled workers with Industry 4.0 architecture, machine-to-machine communication, artificial intelligence, and Internet of Things connectivity to produce a higher degree of automation, precision, and continuous improvement.

“Today, we’re leading the efforts to revitalize American solar manufacturing and secure critical clean energy supply chains because reliable access to competitive, efficient solar panels is essential to our country’s future. Solar panels are the next crude oil, and we cannot be beholden to adversarial nations for our supply,” said Mark Widmar, chief executive officer, First Solar.

The investment by First Solar could be just the beginning for more growth in solar power. In its brief, the DOE says “solar will play an important role in reaching President Biden’s 2035 clean electricity goal … Solar is already the fastest-growing source of new electricity generation in the nation – growing nearly 4,000 percent in just over a decade, from about 2.5 gigawatts (GWdc) of solar capacity in 2010 to over 100 GWdc today. The pipeline of new solar projects in 2021 is on pace to hit record highs …”

Another attractive benefit is the potential to create new jobs. According to the DOE, “Employment in the solar industry has been one of the fastest growing sectors over the past decade – increasing by 150 percent between 2010 and 2020. These workers are employed by over 10,000 solar businesses across all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico – many of them small businesses. While clean energy jobs broadly were hit by the economic shutdown due to the COVID19 pandemic, they have bounced back substantially – adding back over 300,000 jobs this past year – and recovering at a rate faster than most other sectors of the economy.”

The brief adds that “a pathway to a largely decarbonized electricity sector by 2035 can add millions of new jobs across clean energy technologies, including potentially 500,000–1,500,000 people working in solar by 2035.”

According to a White House statement, the DOE’s brief “underscores the immense opportunity that exists within the solar industry and how key investments, like those proposed in the Build Back Better Agenda, can seize that opportunity. Doing so will create thousands of good-paying, union jobs at home, expand manufacturing, make solar affordable for all communities, and lower monthly utility bills.”