US study shows coal jobs could be replaced with solar jobs – with implications for Australia

A new study out of the US has quantified the costs and benefits of retraining American coal workers for employment in the solar PV industry, and the results are encouraging for Australian workers facing job loss in a contracting global coal market.

The study, by Michigan University associate professor Joshua Pearce and Oregon State University’s Edward Louie, says that growth of solar-related employment in the US could easily absorb coal-industry layoffs over the next 15 years, offering full-time careers, often with better salaries.

To reach this finding, Pearce and Louie listed the range of current coal industry positions – from engineers to mining and power plant operators and administrative workers – and determined the closest equivalent solar position and salary.

In many cases the researchers found that non-executive coal workers could earn more in the solar jobs, with some basic retraining.

“For example, an operations engineer in the coal industry could retrain to be a manufacturing technician in solar and expect about a 10 per cent salary increase,” Pearce wrote in a report on the study.

“Our results show that there is a wide variety of employment opportunities in the solar industry, and that the annual pay is attractive at all levels of education, with even the lowest skilled jobs paying a living wage.

The study also attempted to calculate the time and investment it would take to retrain coal workers for solar jobsIt found that a relatively minor investment – ranging from $US180 million to $1.8 billion – would allow the vast majority of US coal workers to switch to solar-related positions.

The paper suggested that, rather than coal workers paying for the retraining themselves, coal companies could fund it, either out of a sense of moral obligation, or as part of company-wide efforts to diversify their energy portfolios.

© 2016 Solar Choice Pty Ltd