2021 was a record year for solar installations and with the recent passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, these numbers are projected to grow astronomically. A recent report from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and Wood Mackenzie projects solar installations to increase from 129 GW to 336 GW within the next five years. With this rising demand comes the need for a qualified solar workforce, but what steps will the solar industry take to ensure these jobs are diverse, equitable and ultimately accessible for all?
Solar jobs increased by 9% nationwide from 2020 to 2021. But the Interstate Renewable Energy Council’s (IREC) National Solar Jobs Census uncovered some alarming stats. For starters, the census found that women made up just under 30% of the solar workforce in 2021. Unfortunately, the lack of diversity didn’t stop there. Black employees made up only 8% of the solar labor pool, Hispanic workers made up 20% and Asian workers came in at just 9%. Having a diverse staff carries many benefits including unique perspectives, experiences and ideas. It is the responsibility of solar companies across the U.S. to bring this ideal workforce to life.
As the longest-standing solar company in the U.S., SunPower takes this role seriously. In September 2021, we announced our 25x25 initiative, a series of commitments toward expanding more renewable energy access to marginalized communities. These commitments are made up of three key targets, including a plan to diversify the solar workforce:
Ensure industry equity: 25% of the dealers, contractors and subcontractors SunPower works with in 2025 are owned by women and people of color.
Expand access for customers: 25% of SunPower's new U.S. residential customers in 2025 are made up of people who live in disadvantaged communities.
Increase workforce diversity: 40% of SunPower’s workforce in 2025 is represented by women; 25% of our workforce is represented by Black and Hispanic/Latinx people.
Now a year into our pledge, we’ve made some good progress. SunPower is actively working with organizations to help us meet our goals. Most notably, we’ve aligned with McKinsey & Company, National Association of Women Business Owners, Grid Alternatives and Solar Energy International (SEI) to help us engage, retain and train more women for careers in solar energy.
To jumpstart this particular initiative, we awarded $100,000 to Grid Alternatives and Solar Energy International through the SunPower Foundation to support solar training programs for women. The hope is that more women will have access to jobs out in the field such as solar installation or electrical work. SunPower also participated in a job fair hosted by GRID Alternatives and Women of Renewable Industries and Sustainable Energy (WRISE) during RE+ to get in front of new candidates.
Beginning next month, a pilot leadership development program with McKinsey & Company is kicking off for women and minorities in management positions.
At SunPower, we believe that the benefits of solar power should be accessible to all. We’re continuously working to build more diversity, equity and inclusion into our company DNA because only together can we change the way our world is powered.