1 Secret Sign Solar is Soaring

You need to watch this under-the-radar solar industry indicator.

Feb 6, 2014 at 10:04AM

Sunpower Corporation

Source: SunPower Corporation 

If you're an energy investor, you've undoubtedly had your eye on solar. But there's one major sign that solar is scaling at unprecedented rates. Here's what you need to watch.

Solar's secret signal
Megawatts, regulatory approvals, installation costs, percentage capacity, dollars-per-Killowatt hour...they're all important indicators. But each one catches just one part of a much larger market puzzle. While you should watch these signs, there's an easier signal for solar's stellar growth.

An often overlooked indicator, solar industry employment shows astonishing growth in the last year. Employment serves as a backbone indicator for much of the economy -- and solar is no different. Human capital is a logistical nightmare and notoriously costly, so if businesses are hiring, it means they expect sustainable sales to keep growth going.

Solar Work

Source: Wikimedia Commons, AlbertHerring. Workers install solar panels at Wayne National Forest, Ohio.

The Solar Foundation released its 2013 National Solar Jobs Census this week, showing that employment soared 19.9% to 142,698 in the past year. That's ten times faster than the national average employment rate.

Installers added the most workers, up 12,500 (22%) in the last year. SolarCity (NASDAQ:SCTY) is set to make 2013 another growth year, as well: "SolarCity has added more than 2,000 jobs since the beginning of 2013; every single one in the United States. When you install a solar panel you create a local job that can't be outsourced," said SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive in a statement. "More than 90 percent of Americans believe we should be using more solar, and fewer than one percent have it today. We've barely begun this transformation, but as it advances, the American solar industry has the potential to be one of the greatest job creators this country has ever seen."

And while SolarCity keep its in-house operations limited to 14 states with 31 operation centers, SunPower Corporation (NASDAQ:SPWR) has pushed employment beyond its own payroll. SunPower Corporation itself employs 1,000 people in 10 states and is "actively hiring hundreds more," but its dealers represent the real scale of solar. According to SunPower CEO Tom Werner, its 400 dealers employ more than 6,000 Americans. Werner calls solar nothing less than a "competitive, reliable resource, and an economic success story for America." 

A solar success story
While the economic recovery continues its slow grind, some states have seen solar employment soar. North Carolina shot up three places in solar capacity ranking to snag second place behind California. North Carolina's overall unemployment dropped faster than any other state in the last year, and the NC Clean Energy Industry Census puts clean energy employment up 20% to 18,404 workers in 2013. By the Census count, there are 240 solar businesses spread throughout the state.

But perhaps North Carolina's biggest solar win came in December, when regulators approved Duke Energy Corporation's (NYSE:DUK) Green Source Rider program. The legislation essentially allows Duke Energy Corporation's corporate customers the option of paying more to ensure their electricity demand is met with renewable energy supply. There are currently more than 2,000 MW of utility-scale solar projects in the proposal stage, meaning major growth opportunities for both Duke Energy and North Carolinians.

Google (NASDAQ:GOOGL) has a goal of 100% renewable energy sourcing, and worked closely with Duke Energy to make its proposal a reality. Here's a video explaining exactly how Google can buy solar power from utilities like Duke Energy.


The company has poured $1 billion into 16 wind and solar investments, and it's still got a long way to go before reaching total renewables use. Google is currently doubling the size of its Lenoir, North Carolina data center, and solar energy could be a major part of the company's new electricity supply.

Follow the footsteps
Solar employment expanded rapidly in 2013, and 2014 looks to be bigger than ever. The Solar Foundation expects its industry to add on another 164,938 jobs this year for a 15% growth rate. With companies continuing to scale, now is the perfect time to grab your piece of a growing profit pie.

America's Energy Boom
Solar is soaring as the United States reinvents its energy position. Finding the right plays while historic amounts of capital expenditures are flooding the industry will pad your investment nest egg. For this reason, the Motley Fool is offering a comprehensive look at three energy companies set to soar during this transformation in the energy industry. To find out which three companies are spreading their wings, check out the special free report, "3 Stocks for the American Energy Bonanza." Don't miss out on this timely opportunity; click here to access your report -- it's absolutely free. 

Justin Loiseau owns shares of Google. The Motley Fool recommends Google and SolarCity. The Motley Fool owns shares of Google and SolarCity. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

1 Key Step to Get Rich

Our mission at The Motley Fool is to help the world invest better. Whether that’s helping people overcome their fear of stocks all the way to offering clear and successful guidance on complicated-sounding options trades, we can help.

Feb 1, 2016 at 4:54PM

To be perfectly clear, this is not a get-rich action that my Foolish colleagues and I came up with. But we wouldn't argue with the approach.

A 2015 Business Insider article titled, "11 websites to bookmark if you want to get rich" rated The Motley Fool as the #1 place online to get smarter about investing.

"The Motley Fool aims to build a strong investment community, which it does by providing a variety of resources: the website, books, a newspaper column, a radio [show], and [newsletters]," wrote (the clearly insightful and talented) money reporter Kathleen Elkins. "This site has something for every type of investor, from basic lessons for beginners to investing commentary on mutual funds, stock sectors, and value for the more advanced."

Our mission at The Motley Fool is to help the world invest better, so it's nice to receive that kind of recognition. It lets us know we're doing our job.

Whether that's helping the entirely uninitiated overcome their fear of stocks all the way to offering clear and successful guidance on complicated-sounding options trades, we want to provide our readers with a boost to the next step on their journey to financial independence.

Articles and beyond

As Business Insider wrote, there are a number of resources available from the Fool for investors of all levels and styles.

In addition to the dozens of free articles we publish every day on our website, I want to highlight two must-see spots in your tour of fool.com.

For the beginning investor

Investing can seem like a Big Deal to those who have yet to buy their first stock. Many investment professionals try to infuse the conversation with jargon in order to deter individual investors from tackling it on their own (and to justify their often sky-high fees).

But the individual investor can beat the market. The real secret to investing is that it doesn't take tons of money, endless hours, or super-secret formulas that only experts possess.

That's why we created a best-selling guide that walks investors-to-be through everything they need to know to get started. And because we're so dedicated to our mission, we've made that available for free.

If you're just starting out (or want to help out someone who is), go to www.fool.com/beginners, drop in your email address, and you'll be able to instantly access the quick-read guide ... for free.

For the listener

Whether it's on the stationary exercise bike or during my daily commute, I spend a lot of time going nowhere. But I've found a way to make that time benefit me.

The Motley Fool offers five podcasts that I refer to as "binge-worthy financial information."

Motley Fool Money features a team of our analysts discussing the week's top business and investing stories, interviews, and an inside look at the stocks on our radar. It's also featured on several dozen radio stations across the country.

The hosts of Motley Fool Answers challenge the conventional wisdom on life's biggest financial issues to reveal what you really need to know to make smart money moves.

David Gardner, co-founder of The Motley Fool, is among the most respected and trusted sources on investing. And he's the host of Rule Breaker Investing, in which he shares his insights into today's most innovative and disruptive companies ... and how to profit from them.

Market Foolery is our daily look at stocks in the news, as well as the top business and investing stories.

And Industry Focus offers a deeper dive into a specific industry and the stories making headlines. Healthcare, technology, energy, consumer goods, and other industries take turns in the spotlight.

They're all informative, entertaining, and eminently listenable ... and I don't say that simply because the hosts all sit within a Nerf-gun shot of my desk. Rule Breaker Investing and Answers contain timeless advice, so you might want to go back to the beginning with those. The other three take their cues from the market, so you'll want to listen to the most recent first. All are available at www.fool.com/podcasts.

But wait, there's more

The book and the podcasts – both free ... both awesome – also come with an ongoing benefit. If you download the book, or if you enter your email address in the magical box at the podcasts page, you'll get ongoing market coverage sent straight to your inbox.

Investor Insights is valuable and enjoyable coverage of everything from macroeconomic events to investing strategies to our analyst's travels around the world to find the next big thing. Also free.

Get the book. Listen to a podcast. Sign up for Investor Insights. I'm not saying that any of those things will make you rich ... but Business Insider seems to think so.

Compare Brokers