by Joel N. Shurkin | August 11, 2011

Clean energy is now creating more jobs for the energy produced than coal or natural gas, and solar energy is the fastest growing industry in the United States, according to industry and academic sources.Solar energy alone employed 93,502 American jobs in 2010 and could grow from 25,000-50,000 this year, economy willing. Solar also is producing more jobs than any other energy source, and could generate four million jobs by 2030. Fifty percent of solar firms expect to be adding jobs this year in the teeth of the recession.

The Solar Energy Industries Association, the industry's trade association, said that in the last three years "the U.S. solar industry has gone from a start-up to a major industry that is creating well-paying jobs and growing the economy in all 50 states.

 "Solar's robust growth in the past years has been the result of a very favorable combination of new, innovative business models, affordability for consumers, rapidly decreasing manufacturing costs and most importantly a strong commitment from the Obama administration and other policymakers in Washington," the industry report concluded.

 In the first quarter of this year, the solar industry installed 252 megawatts of electric capacity, an increase of 66 percent from last year. There are now almost 3,000 megawatts of solar electric power in the U.S, enough to power 600,000 homes. Production of panels went up almost a third.

 The average solar installation firm employes eight workers, the average manufacturing firm employs 24 solar workers. The average utility employes four, according to the job census.

 That sunny picture was confirmed by two academic studies.

 The Solar Foundation, a non-profit, non-lobbying group, and Cornell University reported in the National Solar Jobs Census 2011, that photovoltaic installations grew at a rate of 61 percent between 2006 and 2009.

 Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley, collating research from 15 job studies, concluded that photovoltaic technology produces more jobs per unit of electricity than any other energy source.

 Most of the jobs are in construction and installation of solar facilities and can't be outsourced to other countries.

 "Through replacing outdated infrastructure and developing better energy conservation and production practices a foundation is built for future domestic stability," the Berkeley group said.

 Some of the stimulus is coming from government contracts.

 The Department of Veterans Affairs will install solar panels at five VA hospitals and already has awarded $78 million in contracts; the Department of Energy has loan guarantees for solar projects which alone would create 26,000 jobs; the Department of the Interior has approved permits for projects which will power more than 730,000 homes, and the Department of Agriculture is now providing benefits for ranchers and farmers go to solar.

 According to Rhone Resch of the industry's association, the industry goal is to install 10 gigawatts annual by 2015, adding enough power for 2 million homes a year.

 Joel N. Shurkin is an author and freelance writer in Baltimore, MD. He is the author of nine books, which include: Invisible Fire, The Eradication of Smallpox; Engines Of The Mind, A History Of The Computer; Terman's Kids, The Groundbreaking Study Of How The Gifted Grow Up; and Broken Genius, The Rise And Fall of William Shockley.