Which electricity generation technology is the bigger job creation engine: solar or nuclear? Solar, far and wide.Bryan Jacob | February 21, 2020
The Solar Foundation released its annual Solar Jobs Census report this week. Solar jobs in Georgia increased significantly (30%, the highest of any state in the country). We also heard this week that employment at the Plant Vogtle nuclear construction site hit an all-time high.
So that prompted me to explore which of these technologies is the bigger engine for job creation. It’s solar — and it’s not even close.
No doubt, the Plant Vogtle nuclear expansion has created new jobs for Burke County, GA. It’s the largest construction project in the state. But while solar jobs are spread throughout the state, the nuclear jobs are rather concentrated around that one site.
It’s also super expensive. The Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) just approved another $1.25 billion for units 3 & 4, which are five years behind schedule and at least $11 billion over budget. But I digress…
According to the 2018 U.S. Energy and Employment Report (USEER), there were 64,743 jobs nationwide in nuclear generation and another 8,962 jobs related to nuclear fuels. It should come as no surprise that there are zero jobs related to “fuel” for solar; but in that report, this superior technology, solar, represents 4-5 times as many jobs overall compared to nuclear power.
As the name implies, the Solar Jobs Census focuses exclusively on solar jobs and the report this week accounted for a total just shy of a quarter-million (249,983) from 2019. Obviously they tally the results a bit differently than USEER.
Georgia represents 4,798 of those solar jobs and shows no signs of slowing down. The jobs reflected in the current Solar Jobs Census primarily derive from the decisions made by the PSC in the prior (2016) Integrated Resources Plan (IRP) for Georgia Power which called for 1,350 MW of solar. (Independent decisions on behalf of the electric membership cooperatives, EMCs, that serve about 44% of the state’s residents, contributed to these solar jobs, as well).
Last year (2019), the PSC voted unanimously to sustain the momentum of the Georgia Power solar program with another 2,210 MW of solar. So as those projects go out for bids and get awarded, we can expect to see solar jobs continue and likely increase in the years to come.
When construction began on the current nuclear projects (Plant Vogtle units 3 & 4) back in 2013, the state of Georgia had less than 100 MW of solar. That solar total is now over 1,700 MW and will exceed the gross capacity of the new nuclear units before they are currently* scheduled to come online in 2021 and 2022.
*In the recently concluded Vogtle Construction Monitoring docket (VCM 20/21), SACE expressed concern over the deceptive tactic of “rebaselining” with project delays “announced in dribs and drabs, 2-3 month increments, when in actuality, the delay could be more substantial — of a year or more, which would prompt a “go/no-go” vote among the Project partners.” Other intervening parties expressed similar skepticism over the viability of the current schedule. But I digress again…
Of course, the capacity from solar projects (megawatts, MW) only contributes when the sun (fuel) is available. But as those discrete solar projects have come online, they have been generating (megawatt-hours, MWh) throughout this construction period. Already, the solar projects in Georgia have put more than 9 million MWh onto the grid. And by the time the new nuclear units come online, solar will have contributed more generation than both of the nuclear units will during their entire first year.
The point I’m trying to emphasize is that the solar industry has been able to scale that technology faster (and cheaper) than the nuclear industry has been able to. And while the construction jobs for the nuclear expansion will be winding down as the units are completed — but the pace of solar is increasing — the state will see more Georgian’s working in solar for the foreseeable future.