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Report: Focusing on advanced solar could mean over 6,800 jobs for New Mexico

Apr 3, 2018

Commentary: With targeted investments and forward-looking policies, New Mexico could leverage its strengths in leading-edge advanced solar technologies to drive economic growth and support over 6,800 jobs annually. That’s according to The New Mexico Jobs Project: A Guide to Creating Jobs in Advanced Solar Technology, a new report created by the American Jobs Project in partnership with the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at The University of New Mexico.

“New Mexico has already made significant investments to tap into the $1.4 trillion global advanced energy industry through natural gas and wind projects,” said Kate Ringness, director of the American Jobs Project and co-author of the report. “Our research shows that the state can continue to capitalize on this opportunity by becoming a hub for advanced solar technologies.”

“Advanced solar technologies” are solar products that go beyond run-of-the-mill solar panels. For example, flexible perovskite solar cells can be used in glazing to enable colorful, electricity-producing glass buildings. Micro-scale solar cells, or “solar glitter,” can be embedded into flexible, lightweight materials such as fabrics and used for applications from aerospace to emergency response. Thin film solar shingles can replace traditional roofing, offering building owners easier solar installation options.

“This report offers a practical roadmap for expanding advanced solar manufacturing in New Mexico to create good-paying manufacturing jobs in a sector that’s growing worldwide,” Ringness said.

These new jobs are needed because, since the onset of the last recession, New Mexico has lost one-quarter of its manufacturing jobs. The state ranks 49th in manufacturing as a share of total employment, at 3.2 percent. New Mexico faces a growing need for good-paying jobs to address unemployment and a large population of underemployed and low-wage workers.

“Fluctuating oil and gas revenues and resulting uncertainty in public finances, an overreliance on government jobs, and limited success in capitalizing on local talent to develop a vibrant technology sector have contributed to a slow post-recession recovery,” said Jeff Mitchell, director of the UNM Bureau of Business and Economic Research. “New Mexico has a unique opportunity to expand its small manufacturing sector and diversify its economy through advanced solar, putting thousands of people to work and stimulating local economies.”

Based on extensive research and stakeholder outreach, The New Mexico Jobs Project finds that:

 

  • The North American advanced solar industry is projected to grow 16.8 percent annually through 2030. China has cornered the global market for conventional solar cells, but New Mexico could become a leading innovator and manufacturer of advanced solar technologies, including hyper-efficient, inexpensive, multifunctional, and easy-to-integrate products. For example, next-generation solar cells can be embedded in building facades, window film, or roof tiles for on-site electricity generation, and concentrating solar power with thermal energy storage can quickly supply demand across a utility network.
  • New Mexico is well positioned to tap into this market growth given the state’s groundbreaking research across universities and national labs, generous state support for manufacturers, growing industry value chain, and immense solar resources. The state has 15 advanced solar manufacturers, including anchor companies Array Technologies, SolAero Technologies, and Unirac, as well as several solar installers and service companies. Existing incubators and accelerators, funding sources, and technical training programs could also be leveraged to strengthen the advanced solar industry.
  • In addition to tapping into broader markets, advanced solar technologies could greatly benefit New Mexico’s energy economy. Projects such as solar panels on streetlights, solar shingles on school buildings, and solar-powered networks for rural broadband could help deliver cost savings and basic services to communities across the state. Increasing New Mexico’s renewable energy supply could also strengthen utility portfolios and attract new businesses, such as Facebook’s Los Lunas Data Center.
  • New Mexico is already home to over 2,500 solar jobs. Through strategic growth of the advanced solar industry, the state could support an average of 6,800 jobs each year through 2030, greatly expanding the existing solar workforce. This figure includes direct jobs from manufacturing and software development, indirect jobs from suppliers, and induced jobs from spending in the local economy.

 

The report provides state-specific strategies designed to take advantage of this economic opportunity and fortify critical assets for industry growth, including the innovation ecosystem, access to capital, workforce development, value chain build-out, and local market growth. Recommendations include:

  • Building a comprehensive cluster development strategy that encourages knowledge sharing, asset growth, and high-impact marketing.
  • Establishing an advanced solar center of excellence to catalyze innovation and support entrepreneurship.
  • Creating a technology maturation loan fund to increase the number of innovations that reach commercial development in the state.
  • Appointing a foundation liaison to leverage philanthropic support for essential programs.
  • Increasing opportunities to develop job readiness and industry-related skills to improve youth engagement in education and employment.

 

“With demand for advanced solar solutions increasing around the world, thousands of jobs are up for grabs for those who choose to lead,” said Athena Christodoulou, President of the New Mexico Solar Energy Association. “The New Mexico Jobs Project demonstrates how our state can seize this opportunity and offers a pathway for industry growth and collaboration across industry, government, and university partners.”

Visit the American Jobs Project website at http://americanjobsproject.us/ajp-state/new-mexico/ to read the report.

The American Jobs Project is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, think-and-do tank focused on creating good-paying jobs in advanced energy and manufacturing through bottom-up, data-driven, 360° economic development. Our experts tailor best practice strategies for bolstering advanced energy and manufacturing, identify assets across the value chain, estimate an industry’s job-supporting potential, and support stakeholder-led initiatives by communicating ideas and analyses. Through engagement with a broad cross-section of stakeholders, we develop a shared vision of effective strategies to leverage the unique competitive advantages offered by each state and generate positive economic impacts.

 

Bureau of Business and Economic Research at The University of New Mexico is the recognized expert in providing socioeconomic data and forecasting in New Mexico. With more than seventy years of experience, BBER’s research team provides economic forecasting as well as research services and communication tools tailored to the needs of clients—public, private, nonprofit, and philanthropic—seeking to understand and shape public policy on the state, regional, and local levels. BBER’s services and research help leaders in New Mexico to understand, forecast and identify trends and changing economic markets across the state of New Mexico in order to inform decision-making.