U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) has been widely quoted online as claiming that the solar power industry now employs more people than coal. On the surface, that’s a good thing, if for no other reason than legislators like Senator Whitehouse need worry less about upsetting people whose livelihoods depend on rock carbon.
But let’s think this through. Solar accounts for about 0.39% of our total energy usage. Coal counts for around 39%. This means that solar uses 100 times more people to produce the same amount of power as coal.
If we are going to measure the success of alternative energy sources, we would do best to move beyond the politics and into the economics. This statistic makes clear we need to focus far more on increasing the productivity and efficiency of the sector before we worry about increasing the number of people in the sector.