Utility-scale solar begins and ends with labor

Utility-scale solar is expanding beyond most expectations, Q2 witnessed the fourth best quarter on record in the U.S. for solar development.

The second quarter of 2021 was a record for U.S. solar development with 5.7 GW installed over those three months, furthermore, utility-scale solar is on track to overtake nuclear capacity in three years. 

Installed utility-scale solar capacity alone is on track to exceed that of nuclear power (106,060 MW vs. 104,620 MW). New utility-scale solar capacity forecast to be added over the next three years (44,052 MW) will be more than 20 times greater than the capacity of the two new nuclear reactors in Georgia (2,200 MW) that have been under construction since 2013.

2021 is not where this trend of emerging utility-scale solar began. This is a movement that has been growing legs since before 2020. In the second quarter of 2020, the U.S. hit 50 gigawatts of cumulative operating utility solar, without much pause to consider how momentous a milestone it was.

In 2011, utility solar reached 1 gigawatt. It took roughly nine years for the country to hit 50 gigawatts, but now it’s on track to reach 100 gigawatts by the end of 2023. Under Wood Mackenzie’s current forecast, U.S. utility solar will surpass 250 gigawatts by 2029 and reach more than 1 terawatt of utility PV somewhere between 2042 and 2045. 

As the market demands more renewable and carbon-neutral energy, for developers and EPCs, utility-scale solar has become America’s next gold rush. In the midst of this historic development and expansion of an energy market, however, the U.S., as well as most of the world is experiencing issues related to supply chain disruptions and labor shortages due to the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

With an innovative vetting process and access to numerous solar industry experts, Ridgeline Renewables delivers high-production crews to your utility-scale solar project.

Demand for labor

Solar power has held the title of the “fastest-growing industry” in the United States for several years. 1-out-of-every-50 new jobs are in the solar industry, and 50% of all energy jobs by 2030 will be in renewable energy. And Demand for utility-scale solar has never been higher, and yet the challenges mount for companies to procure material and labor.

Utility-scale developers are building larger projects and using technology gains and improved construction practices to maximize economies of scale. Regions with strong solar activity, such as Texas, or established solar communities, offer greater access to industry expertise and equipment. Larger developers and construction groups are able to rotate teams and standardize equipment and installation processes.

The challenges of securing skilled and reliable labor for projects is even more daunting, and in some cases, even after securing labor, keeping a utility-scale project fully staffed with labor has been a challenge for some, even before the labor shortages began.

According to Business Insider, everywhere you look, there seem to be anecdotes about businesses struggling to hire and retain workers. 

In fact, workers have been quitting at a record rate for four months in a row. In July, the last month that the Bureau of Labor Statistics released data on, there were still more job openings than workers available. On Friday, BLS said that the US added a paltry 194,000 jobs in September — far lower than economists expected. 

All told, it’s yet another month marked by shortages and a reshuffle of the labor market, even as millions still remain unemployed. 

Ridgeline solar installation specialists are examining performance charts on a recent utility-scale solar build.

Meeting the demands of the solar industry while combating and overcoming the challenges of a nation-wide labor shortage, require a comprehensive strategy and partners who have the knowledge and experience confronting these challenges on utility-scale projects. For example, Ridgeline Renewables provides experienced, reliable, and high-production solar professionals you can count on, when and where they’re needed.

Unlike traditional staffing companies in the utility-scale solar arena, Ridgeline provides in-house labor resources; skilled solar installation professionals who have experience working together on a variety of projects nationwide.

In addition to the strong relationships built among the crew, staff and our clients, Ridgeline has implemented processes that improve efficiency, which include management teams supervising skilled labor on the ground.

With these unique operational processes in place, the construction firm in charge of completing the mechanical build is freed of the burden of managing labor, including the cumbersome tasks of struggling with attendance issues and turnover. Ridgeline eliminates that burden and provides a labor solution in real-time. Ridgeline also provides their partners with flexible options for fully staffing a new build or stabilizing an existing labor force that is struggling with performance problems.

Future Trends

Top Growth Sectors for utility-scale solar

If projections hold true, there will be no shortage of demand for skilled, high-production labor in utility-scale solar.

In fact, the International Energy Agency (IEA)is forecasting that ‘exceptionally high-capacity additions will become the “new normal” in 2022, with renewables accounting for 90 percent of new power capacity expansion globally’. It says that solar PV development will continue to ‘break records’, with annual additions reaching 162 GW by 2022 – almost 50 percent higher than the pre-pandemic level of 2019.

In particular, the share of utility-scale applications is forecast to increase from over 55 percent in 2020 to almost 70 percent in 2022.

This rapid expansion over 2020 and forecast growth for 2021-22 is fantastic news for the sector, and particularly the utility-scale market.

US solar employment will need to rise to 900,000 workers to achieve President Joe Biden’s ambitious green power goals, according to SEIA. Growing productivity and wider technology uptake could erode this figure.

As growth continues, developers face a potential shortage of skilled solar workers. Having a strategic labor partner will be essential for developers heading into 2022.

At this critical inflection point in our industry, there can be little room for error when it comes to production on utility-scale solar. Productivity, profitability, and a project’s success all rely on job site continuity.

Strategic Labor Partner

Sustaining a reliable and productive labor force on the project is just as important as staffing up the project from the very beginning. Ridgeline Renewables can do that.

Services include: pile driving, racking assembly, and module installation.

At the foundation of a utility-scale solar project is the proper installation of piles. This is critical to the longevity of the plant. Ridgeline’s operators and support crew are experienced, well trained and efficient. Plumbness, alignment, top elevation, and of course, productivity are the metrics that drive our success.

Ridgeline has successfully installed 2GW–and counting. The crew and supervisors are well versed in ATI, Nextracker, Solarflex, RBI, Soltec, and numerous other systems.

Ridgeline Renewables believes that producing consistent results, which is key to utility-scale solar development, requires more than just a desire to be the best. It requires empowering our solar installation specialists technicians with the proper training, safety, guidance, tools, and equipment.

Despite the challenges ahead, 2022 is shaping up to be a historic year for utility-scale solar development, and Ridgeline Renewables is ready to help build up the labor force to meet these challenges head on.

For more information about Ridgeline contact: matt@clarygroupllc.com


Ford, Neil. Sayles, Robin. “In the short term, developers could face a shortage of skilled solar workers and an increase in labour costs. Shortages in qualified electricians and technicians are key concerns.” Accessed October 15, 2021. https://www.reutersevents.com/renewables/solar-pv/us-solar-builders-hike-labour-productivity-ahead-growth-jump

Jacob, Bryan. “Trying to Get Ahead of the Impending Workforce Shortage in Georgia’s Solar Industry.” Accessed October 15, 2021. https://cleanenergy.org/blog/trying-to-get-ahead-of-the-impending-workforce-shortage-in-georgias-solar-industry/

Kaplan, Juliana. “3 reasons there’s a labor shortage, according to Biden’s labor secretary.” Business Insider. Accessed October 14, 2021. https://www.businessinsider.com/3-reasons-for-labor-shortage-according-to-biden-labor-secretary-2021-10

Kennedy, Ryan. “The US installed 5.7 GW of solar in Q2.” PV Magazine. Accessed October 13, 2021. https://www.pv-magazine.com/2021/09/30/the-u-s-installed-5-7-gw-of-solar-in-q2/

Misbrener, Kelsey. “Utility-scale solar capacity on track to overtake nuclear capacity in three years.” Solar Power World. Accessed October 13, 2021. https://www.solarpowerworldonline.com/2021/10/utility-scale-solar-generation-on-track-to-overtake-nuclear-power-in-three-years/

Smith, Colin. “So Big It’s Boring: The Rise of Utility-Scale Solar.” Green Tech Media. Accessed October 14, 2021. https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/so-big-its-boring-the-rise-of-utility-scale-solar

Solar Foundation’s National Solar Jobs Census 2020