The Breakdown | Explaining Southern California's economy

California has the solar jobs, but will it ever have the solar scale?

A Solyndra solar rooftoop installation.
A Solyndra solar rooftoop installation.

Here's some good news for the solar industry, in the aftermath of the Solyndra scandal. The LA Times reports that California is basically SolarLand, USA:

California's solar jobs tally was more than four times greater than runner-up Colorado, which had 6,186 solar jobs.

The Golden State ranked first in the nation for generating electricity from both photovoltaic solar panels and concentrated solar power systems that use mirrors to create steam to run turbines, the study said.

The report goes on to anticipate 24 percent industry growth over the next year, taking the total number of California jobs up to about 50,000 (there are currently about 25,000). 

That sounds great, but as I've pointed out before, will it be enough? No one has really ever questioned that solar is growing as an industry. The problem is one of scale: Can solar ever attract enough investment to rival traditional sources of power generation, particularly super-cheap coal? 

So far, the Department of Energy seems to have shrugged off the Solyndra failure. Before its loan guarantee program ended last month, the DOE awarded billions in guarantees to a number of major projects that would generate electricity at utility scale for the long term. You could certainly argue that more government action to attract investment is needed at this juncture. But will the Solyndra fallout prevent it from happening?

For California, this would be a real negative. An industry twice as big could create twice as many jobs — 50,000 each year, versus 25,000. You can do the math from there. The overall U.S. economy needs to create more than 300,000 jobs each month to reduce unemployment from its current 9.1 percent. California's burgeoning solar industry, properly leveraged, could make a notable contribution to that goal.

The only thing holding it back, predictably enough, is money. And, in the aftermath of Solyndragate, an ambivalence about the government supporting green energy.

Follow Matthew DeBord and the DeBord Report on Twitter.