Solar power has grown immensely in the last decade, becoming a dominant energy source in the transition to renewable energy. Already, solar power employs more US workers than oil, gas, or coal, with continued rapid expansion expected through 2030. Yet, compared to other American regions, the American South has lagged behind in solar production. This article will analyze the potential implications that a shift toward the solar industry would have on southern economies.
Currently, the states in the American south have relied heavily on petroleum and natural gas extraction and refinement, with the oil industry already heavily active in the South, particularly in states such as Oklahoma, Texas, and Louisiana, where it constitutes 14%, 9%, and 6% of each respective economy. As such, many Southern states have been hesitant about the shift toward renewable energy. Yet, Southern states are by far those that receive the most sunlight per year, and as such, are the best candidates in the Union for solar production. As this has become clearer with falling prices for the generation of renewables, some southern states have begun diversifying their energy sources, with Texas and Florida being the states with the second and third highest solar production in absolute numbers. Yet, despite this, on a per-capita basis these states continue to have some of the lowest percentages of electricity coming from solar power. As such, despite solar energy employment increasing by 167% in the last decade, this growth has been uneven and much lower in the South than in other regions of the US. While this has led to a potential loss in southern economies that have fallen behind in this sector, it also means that there is room for immense growth in the coming decade.
Solar energy also offers the potential to not just create new jobs, but to create high-productivity jobs. The median income from a solar industry job is currently at over $109,000 per year. Compared to the median incomes of southern states, which range between $45,000-61,000 per year, the solar sector presents incomes that are nearly twice as high. In the context of the American South containing the states with the lowest incomes in the US, the growth of solar production doesn’t just imply increased income and productivity, but will also work to lower income inequality between states, as Southern states’ economies grow around their potential productive capacities.
Solar energy offers an ideal opportunity for the expansion of Southern economies due to their natural prosperity for year-round sunlight. Solar energy has provided some of the highest job-growth of any business sector, offering a high-income, high productivity workforce for states which support it. As such, solar power has the potential to completely transform the economies of the Southern states in the coming decade.