Pearce on Training Coal Workers for the Solar Industry

Solar PanelsJoshua Pearce (MSE/ECE) is quoted in Newsweek, “Why Donald Trump Can’t Save the Coal Industry,” and his research was covered in A Proposal To Retrain Coal Miners on North East Public Radio.


A study published last year in the peer-reviewed journal Energy Economics says coal miners could cheaply and easily be retrained for jobs in the solar energy industry. The solar industry is experiencing employment growth 12 times that of the entire economy. With the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimating jobs in solar energy will increase by as much as 24 percent by 2022 from a decade before, the employment opportunities for solar panel installers and other jobs in that industry are enormous. And unlike wind and hydroelectric, solar is not geographically limited and so could absorb the vast supply of coal miners with modest relocation costs—if any—for miners and their families.

A relatively minor investment in retraining would allow the vast majority of coal workers to switch to [solar]-related positions even in the event of the elimination of the coal industry,

according to the study, which was written by Joshua Pearce, associate professor in the department of electrical and computer engineering at Michigan Technological University, and Edward Louie, a doctoral student at the School of Public Policy at Oregon State University.

Read more at Newsweek, by Kurt Eichenwald.

Michael Meeropol: A Proposal To Retrain Coal Miners

In fact, there is a way to have both an increase in well-paying jobs in the energy sector and a switch to a carbon neutral future with emphasis on renewable sources of energy.  The Harvard Business Review just published a summary of a study showing that with the rapid growth in employment in solar industries all coal miners as well as workers in coal fired electrical generating plants (93% of the coal consumed in the US is used to generate electricity) no matter what the level of expertise, could be retrained for jobs in the solar-generated electrical industry.

[See Joshua Pearce, “What if All US Coal Workers Were Retrained to Work in Solar,” Harvard Business Review (August 8, 2016) available at]

The detailed research was published by Dr. Pearce and a collaborator Edward Louie in the journal Energy Economics (“Retraining Investment for U.S. Transition from Coal to Solar Photovoltaic Employment”  Vol 57, pages 295–302 (2016). doi:10.1016/j.eneco.2016.05.016 free open access pre-print.)   In the Harvard Business Review article, Dr. Pearce writes that “…. because of the tremendous drop in costs for solar technology, solar adoption is now rising rapidly.   ….  the American solar industry had a record first quarter in 2016, and for the first time, it drove the majority of new power generation. The U.S. solar industry is creating a lot of jobs, bringing on new workers 12 times faster than the overall economy. As of November 2015, the solar industry employed 208,859 solar workers,…”

Read more and listen to the audio at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, by Michael Meeropol.