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States Low in Solar Potential High in Solar Jobs; South Dakota Not Capitalizing

The Solar Foundation has mapped jobs created by the solar power industry in each state:

Solar Jobs per capita by state 2012
(click to embiggen!)

Sunny California leads the nation in solar jobs, followed by Arizona. One would expect lots of solar power jobs in such sunny places. But #3 in total solar jobs is New Jersey. Pennsylvania, New York, Michigan, and Ohio also make this top ten. Compare those states solar-job performance with the amount of sunshine they get that could produce electricity:

(click to embiggen!)

Six of the top ten solar-job states have less photovoltaic solar power to exploit than South Dakota. So does our snowy neighbor Minnesota, which has more folks working on solar panels than we do. South Dakota is at the bottom of the pile with Wyoming and West Virginia. We have a relative wealth of sunlight, more in West River than East, but we let it go to waste. Our state encourages dreamers to punch holes in the ground hunting for black gold, but it ignores the solar gold falling plainly on our heads (well, not this morning, but more of the time than in New Jersey!).

According to this summary, California has more solar workers than actors. Texas has more solar workers than ranchers. Nationwide, solar power puts 119,000 people to work, more than the coal mining industry. If solar jobs keep growing at the rates seen since 2010, the U.S. will add 20,000 solar power jobs this year. That's more jobs than we'll ever see from the Keystone XL pipeline, temporary or permanent.

Just as with our under-tapped wind resources, South Dakota is failing to capitalize on its strong potential for solar energy. Forget looking for seepage from the Bakken; let's concentrate on developing our clean and abundant renewable resources for South Dakota energy independence.


  1. mc 2013.04.20

    I believe in option D) All of the above.

    That means drill, baby drill. Drill new wells. Build new (cleaner) refineries. Build pipelines to safely transport the oil and gas to where it is needed. This isn't just a matter of money, it is a matter of national security. We know more now than we did 30 years ago. It can be done in safe, ecological manner.

    We also need to conserve. The world is only so big, and there is only so much oil, gas and coal. We need to be smart about how use it. This means before you jump on an airplane to go to Chicago, would you be better off taking the bus, or the even the train. Walk or ride your bicycle instead of driving

    Develop new sources of energy. Wind, solar, geothermal, hydroelectric, bio-fuels and nuclear. One day fossil fuels is going to run out. Many of these are severely under developed.

  2. Jerry 2013.04.20

    Geesh Cory, that is why we changed the state motto from "The Sunshine State" because the sun does not shine here anymore. Since we got the likes of NOem and Thune and Rounds and long list of other corporate welfare providers, we have missed the boat. Now what should be done is this, if you are a rancher, and you are down on your luck and ain't got a buck, here you should be a winner. You would be able to negotiate the rental of your land to the state for renewable energy projects like solar. We do have plenty of that as your map shows. We just do not have the political intelligence to get that job done. If we had leadership in our state that was not tied down to the teat of government handouts to the few, we could make those same kinds of handouts provide jobs for hundreds and perhaps thousands at a full time level.

    Here in western South Dakota, the powers to be could give a care about permanent jobs. They can get foreign workers to come in the summer and that is all they care about. If you think that is incorrect, drive to Sturgis in the fall and winter. Those streets look like Boston did the other day, nobody on them. As long as we have politicians that are in the pocket of the big tourist attractions, the longer we have to wait for important jobs here. We have one of the brainiest schools in the world right here in Rapid City, South Dakota. We send these engineers all over the world work on projects that include renewable energy projects so it is not like we would have difficulty filling the jobs necessary to make sure the projects would do the job as intened (unless David Lust starts to stomp his feet and hold his breath to sell that school). No, we have human jewels here as well as the jewel of abundant solar and wind that would not endanger our precious water. In the meantime, we will have to listen to the shrill babble from NOem and the blank stare from Thune. One bright spot would be to eliminate the snake oil salesman Rounds from consideration as our other senator. We certainly do not need a Heckle and Jeckle to continue the status quo. Let the sunshine in!

  3. Kal Lis 2013.04.20


    Just checked Amtrak, there's not an Amtrak station within 150 miles or Sioux Falls or Rapid City. The closest station seems to be Sioux Falls.

    Would not mind taking a train, but need to have one to take.

  4. Rorschach 2013.04.20

    All that unproductive ranch land in western South Dakota will be perfect for algae fuel development when that becomes commercially feasible. But as long as Republicans run the state they will insist on being last at that too.

  5. MC 2013.04.20

    To be fair Kal, I did looking to passenger rail service in South Dakota. From Sioux Falls the closest two stations is Fargo or Omaha, from Rapid City I believe the closest is Denver. The cost per passenger mile is about 48¢ depending on who you talk to. Right now there just isn’t enough of a market to justify upgrading the rails and operating a train from the cities trough Sioux Falls, Pierre, Rapid City to Denver. Too many people will either drive themselves or fly.

    If there is enough interest I might try to peruse this further

  6. Kal Lis 2013.04.20


    I searched the 150 radius from Aberdeen and found the Fargo station. I should have added that.

    I was trying to make the point that the infrastructure isn't always there. Even walking requires a little infrastructure. Walking a mile to work shouldn't be a hassle, but if one has to go through areas that aren't required to have sidewalks, the walker ends up dodging snowdrifts, mud, and the slush tossed on clothes by passing vehicles, it's pretty difficult to show up looking presentable. In some places, zoning laws are big government intrusion.

  7. Michael Black 2013.04.20

    Cory, it makes far more sense to invest in energy conservation that it does solar power. The ROI of insulation, weatherstripping, caulking, and new windows and doors is far more attractive than power from the sun. The only time that solar makes sense is when states give homeowners incentives (subsidies provided by taxpayers).

  8. MC 2013.04.20


    There is the problem, the lack of infrastructure. There might be all kinds of solar panels however unless there is a way to get that electricity into the power grid, they are just taking up space.

    It is not a completely bad idea, it just needs to be developed further.

  9. larry kurtz 2013.04.20

    You guys are arguing over methods of red state euthanasia.

  10. Tony Amert 2013.04.20

    Christ. Your linked average solar energy density plot does not correlate well with production potential. Northern states fall vastly behind on these plots because of the huge amount of maintenance that is required to keep the panels producing.

    During fall/winter/spring snow and frost must be consistently removed from the panels to maintain production. When installed in the typical fashion on roofs such maintenance is difficult to do at best.

    During the summer, any area that is dry results in dust coverage that also substantially reduces production unless frequent cleaning is performed. (further, modern panels are almost always covered in an anti-reflection coating which requires VERY special care. Think of the coatings on modern TV screens. Use the wrong cleaner once and it's toast.)

    While the above two may seem trivial, one must invest significant time on a regular basis to achieve anything close to the production potentials in your plot for northern states.

  11. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.04.20

    Ah... so is South Dakota snowier in the winter and dustier in the summer than those northeastern states that are at the head of the pack in solar jobs and production.

  12. larry kurtz 2013.04.20

    Our system needs zero maintenance.

  13. larry kurtz 2013.04.20

    check that: just replaced ten batteries at $160/ea. about seven year lifespan and cores are recycled.

  14. MC 2013.04.20

    We are missing two major components to make work.

    1. The infrastructure. Electricity should be used as it is generated. Lack of transmission lines means they would have to be built.

    2. Man-power. While solar panels don't have moving parts, they still have to be maintained. That is tall order for ranch.

  15. larry kurtz 2013.04.20

    adjustments for seasonal angle are manual although some systems are on motors.

  16. John 2013.04.20

    The faux analysis of the solar resource map is all foggy. Germany for over decade led the world in solar energy production (now the much larger China leads and no one is challenging Germany for the second position). How is this possible? Central Germany is on the 50th parallel, as is Winnipeg. Relook at that "solar resource map". Germany receives tons of snow, drizzle, and the North Atlantic scud clouds giving Germany multiple ceilings and days without direct sunshine. Yet Germany is a world leader in solar energy production. How?

    Will. The will to dare. The will to do. The US crawled inside its shell and stopped thinking big about a generation ago.

  17. Ken Blanchard 2013.04.20

    Carbon emissions in the U.S. dropped 12% from 2005 to 2012. That is a robust success, if you think that reducing carbon emissions is important. It didn't happen because of investment in solar energy or wind energy or any other "green" technology. Solar energy is a net consumer of energy rather than a producer. The same is true, to a lesser degree, of wind energy and biofuels. The wealth invested in these technologies has to be generated elsewhere and that effectually adds to our carbon footprint.

    Our carbon emissions have come down due primarily to a shift from coal to natural gas. Meanwhile, fracking technology is increasing our supply of energy so much that we are well on our way to becoming energy independent.

    Solar power is big in states that receive relatively less sun for the same reason that bay area residents often install their solar panels on the wrong side of the house. Solar power isn't about saving the environment or energy independence. It's about the romance of environmental virtue.

    I have no problem with that. It's what evolutionary psychology calls "costly signaling". Putting up solar panels or buying a Prius show that one is part of the blessed and the righteous. If, however, you want to actually do something that is good for the environment, you might want to pay attention to what actually works.

  18. larry kurtz 2013.04.20

    Refrigerators and dryers are the biggest electrical loads on residential systems and propane is expensive because of the insurance costs to transport it.

  19. larry kurtz 2013.04.20

    Hanging clothes out to dry might just save humankind.

  20. Stan Gibilisco 2013.04.20

    Does that map really show solar jobs per capita as the little tag I see (when I hover over it) suggests?

    If that's true, California has over 10,000 solar jobs per person! Wow!

    More seriously, we would expect more populated places to have more jobs overall, period.

    And even more seriously, our state sits on a veritable gold mine of sun and wind (though the sun part seems in doubt over the past few weeks); we could really set an example by exploiting these resources.

    I'd like to see private enterprise come in here and do it. But maybe our climate and topography, not to mention our rural nature, keeps some of those elites away.

    They don't know what they're not missing ...

  21. John 2013.04.21

    What do they put in the water in Aberdeen? Or is it the air? - suspending rational thought and application of science. Yes, carbon emissions in the US are down due to burning less coal and fewer transportation fuels.

    Solar is a net producer of energy. It's the source for most geothermal energy, in addition to photovoltaics. Media matters debunks the fossil fuelers and their apologists campaign against the future. Photovoltaics recoup the energy required to manufacture them in 1 to 4 years at current technology.
    Similarly 24 governors asked for more wind energy funding to encourage further development, to put wind energy on a balanced financial foot with the heavily subsidized fossil fuels, and because they realized the positive energy balance. Do your own research:

    The energy balance for biofuels is positive: about 1.3 for corn ethanol; 8 for sugar ethanol; 2-5 for biodiesel.

    By all means we should pay attention to what works. We must also pay attention to real economics as opposed to the voodoo type. The entire cost of an oil and gas well is deductible - meaning that the well's cost is socialized by federal welfare queens while the profits are privatized. What a country.

  22. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.04.21

    Stan, you are so literal! (Clearly the mark of an attentive writer.)
    Climate, topography, and rural culture haven't kept private enterprise from the Bakken. Keep improving the tech and lowering the cost, and maybe we'll be building new solar cities around the Hills like the new Bakken City that Bryan Vulcan gets to build .

  23. Donald Pay 2013.04.21

    Kohl's stores in states that have the right regulatory environment uses rooftop solar power to generate much of the energy used to power its stores. It uses a third party financial agreement, similar to what many businesses and governments (eg., states, cities, university systems and school districts) use in order to reduce up-front costs.

    The problem is the Republican Party is monetarily in hock to old energy and the monopoly centralized utilities (eg., the buggy whip manufactures of today), and and resists energy entrepreneurs that seek to modernize our energy sources.

    In Wisconsin we have bi-partisan support for changes. mainly because Walker's top-down, command and control, give them money Hail Mary approach to economic development is not working, and he's basically spit on renewable energy. Republicans are begging to see how stupid that was. Under Doyle the state was poised to have a boom in renewable energy manufacturing. Under Walker it died because he was too tied to oil, gas, coal and monopoly utilities.

  24. John 2013.04.21

    The dirty little secret the electric utility industry does not want you to know is in their report, "Solar panels could destroy US utilities, according to US utilities" - (see p d f link).

    The utilities' problem is they are regulated monopolies, good 'ole boys, unaccustomed to change, progress, or the creative destruction, think yahoo, google, Apple, facebook, etc. Utilities had the same business model for a century, and by golly, they ain't gonna change now so they'll be left holding a ledger of past results - as did Kodak.

  25. tonyamert 2013.04.22


    I'm a researcher at a public university and perform research on solar cell technology. I work with companies producing solar cells, in the US and abroad, on the use of novel manufacturing technology to decrease cell cost. On a daily basis I work to make solar cell technology cost competitive.

    Please keep telling me how I'm uninformed.


    Having solar jobs and production doesn't mean that it's either cost effective or a good decision. It most likely means that it's insanely subsidized.

  26. tonyamert 2013.04.22


    Utilities purchase and distribute power. There is no good old boys network, there is no conspiracy to keep solar down. They will purchase power from the source that is the most economically competitive. If it's renewable, great. If it's fossil fuel based, great.

    Your selected quote is downright misleading. It's from the article headline. Not the EEI article itself. The EEI article says that it's potentially conceivable that there could be no need for utilities if enough dependable energy could be generated at the load and then goes onto describe why this model isn't feasible anytime in the future. The EEI article just describes the potential real impact of rate shifting caused by renewables. Not the destruction of the industry.

  27. John 2013.04.22

    The trashing of solar potential in northern states appears uniformed about Germany. I lived there for over 10 years, piloted there for nearly 7. Multiple low cloud layers was the rule, not exception, as was drizzle, sleet, rain, and snow. It's centered north of the US so an idea that PV solar is ineffective in the northern US of southern Canada is bunk. Sure the German's subsidized it, but they did to turn corners retiring coal plants and nuclear plants. (The German's have been building breathing homes that do not need furnaces (google: passive house) so their conserving lifestyles necessitate less from solar PV.) Hardly anything is more subsidized than the US fossil fuel industry so one cannot argue that solar must stand alone in a morbidly distorted economic environment.

    The US now has more solar energy jobs than coal industry jobs. And no energy is more subsidized than is the fossil fuel industry.

    Please READ the Emerson Electric Institute study the Grist article quoted 4 times. Right now 16% of the US electric retail market is "in the money" for solar PV. The electric utilities estimate by 2017 that 33% of the retail electric market will be "in the market" for economical solar PV. Yes, the electric utilities are scared silly they may have their "Kodak moment" (p.16, aka, bankruptcy) because the disruptive technologies like solar PV, (solar) geothermal, turbines, etc., cut their rate payers forcing remaining rate payers to pay more, then forcing those remaining to seek relief through adopting disruptive technologies, reducing the utilities qualifications for cheap credit - it's a lovely cycle, pp. 11-12. When it begins it moves exponentially. Page 18 highlights the good 'ole boys manifesto to gouge their captive rate payers - both immediate and long term actions.

    The electric utilities are concerned about their monopolistic dividends, their monopolistic profits, and their over-compensated executives. They are about to have the democracy of the free market dumped on them. They are not ready, so instead of playing offense they are playing defense. They, who haven't changed their business model since rural electrification, who didn't cut rates when they went to burning cheaper natural gas, won't support net metering, won't support free-market retail service contracts - are running scared.

    And if bankruptcy wasn't the destruction of Kodak, if the landline phone industry isn't nearly dead - then please feel free to invest in those industries.

  28. John 2013.04.28

    Solar costs drop 18-23% per year for the last 3 years and appear they will in the near future. Solar will likely become less expensive than the use of existing coal.
    Electric utilities, their investors, and apologists - read it and weep.

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