New Mexico can capitalize on its strengths in the advanced solar industry to drive economic growth and support over 6,800 jobs annually.
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Advanced energy is already producing $1.4 trillion in annual private-sector revenues around the world, and U.S. states are well positioned to take advantage of this growing global market.
New Mexico is steadily capitalizing on this growth with investments in natural gas and wind projects. Building on these efforts, the latest report from the American Jobs Project takes a close look at a significant advanced energy opportunity in the state: advanced solar. The report, created in partnership with the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at The University of New Mexico, counts the state’s groundbreaking research, generous state incentives for manufacturers, growing industry value chain, and immense solar resource as key assets for strategic cluster development. With targeted investments and forward-looking policies, the advanced solar industry could support an annual average of over 6,800 New Mexico jobs through 2030.
Beyond Conventional Solar
Advanced solar technologies go beyond run-of-the-mill solar panels dominated by Chinese manufacturing and represent a robust segment of the solar market. The advanced solar industry is projected to grow 16.8 percent annually through 2030 in North America and see similar growth at the global scale.
These technologies leverage enhanced form and function to create hyper-efficient, inexpensive, multifunctional, and easy-to-integrate solar 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 molten salt energy storage can quickly meet demand across a utility network.
By creatively deploying innovative solar technologies, projects can expand access to electricity while serving additional local needs. In particular, building-integrated solar cells can support creative placemaking in neighborhoods, and solar-powered broadband can expand internet connectivity in rural tribal areas, as demonstrated by a recent Navajo Nation community proposal.
Strengthening New Mexico Manufacturing
New Mexico currently has the second-lowest manufacturing employment concentration in the nation, and the state has lost one-quarter of these jobs since the onset of the recession. Changes in the global energy market, overreliance on government jobs, and a reduction in tourism have contributed to a slow postrecession recovery that has hindered employment growth and depressed median income, which is the lowest in the region. Strengthening the state’s small manufacturing base could help diversify its economy, attract more private investment, and facilitate a strong labor market that engages its large population of unemployed, underemployed, and low-wage workers.
The advanced solar industry presents an opportunity to bolster manufacturing in New Mexico. The state is home to 15 advanced solar manufacturers, anchored by corporate leaders such as Array Technologies, SolAero Technologies, and Unirac. New Mexico’s robust research environment also produces a wealth of startups, including mPower Technology’s microscale solar cells, UbiQD’s quantum dots, and 35 Solar’s efficient thin film manufacturing process. Over 2,500 workers drive the current solar industry, with 29 percent in manufacturing. This does not include the technical expertise in materials science, nanotechnology, photonics, and microelectronics housed at the state’s labs, universities, and other manufacturing facilities like Intel.
The American Jobs Project’s research indicates that New Mexico’s advanced solar industry could support an average of over 6,800 jobs each year through 2030 and more than double its current solar workforce. That includes direct jobs in manufacturing and materials development, and a wide array of good-paying jobs that cater to different education and experience levels, including electricians, electrical engineering technicians, and industrial production managers. Our jobs calculation also includes indirect jobs supplying equipment, materials, and services to manufacturers and developers, as well as induced jobs resulting from increased spending in the local economy. Additionally, New Mexico could cultivate a local market for advanced solar technologies to amplify job impacts in installation, operation, and maintenance businesses across the state.
Building Blocks for Cluster Development
So exactly how can New Mexico capitalize on this exciting opportunity? By building a vibrant economic cluster.
Clusters require several foundational building blocks coordinated for growth: an innovation ecosystem that cultivates new ideas, access to capital for new and expanding businesses, education and training for a skilled workforce, a comprehensive value chain, and a local market for homegrown goods. By identifying the state’s assets and gaps within each building block, state and local leaders can strategically plan for growth.
New Mexico’s national labs and research universities anchor the innovation ecosystem with cutting-edge research in solar and solar-related fields, including Sandia’s National Solar Thermal Test Facility and UNM’s well-established optical science and engineering program. Furthermore, resources such as the New Mexico Small Business Assistance Program and the Center for Collaboration and Commercialization connect entrepreneurs and businesses to technical expertise at the labs and universities.
Access to capital is improving due to a strong angel network and momentum from the Catalyst Fund. New Mexico also facilitates diverse funding opportunities, such as the Venture Acceleration Fund’s non-dilutive seed financing and debt financing from The Loan Fund and WESST.
New Mexico ranks second in the nation for future solar training demand and offers job incentives and degree/certificate programs upon which to expand. For example, the Job Training Incentive Program supported 2,009 new jobs at an average wage of $17.45 in 2017, and the state has eight solar training programs across its higher education network.
In addition to 15 manufacturers, New Mexico’s advanced solar value chain boasts several installers and service companies for local projects. Its base of 96 photonics and nanotechnology firms could also plug into supplier networks and bolster manufacturing. Groups like the New Mexico Solar Energy Association also fortify business advocacy and public education efforts.
New Mexico has a wide slate of incentives and resources for both in-state solar manufacturing and installation. For example, solar companies can claim a tax credit on manu facturing equipment and commercially-owned solar energy generators were able to receive a production tax credit since the end of 2017. The state’s solar energy potential has been key to attracting significant investment from large, sustainably-minded businesses, as seen with Facebook’s Los Lunas Data Center.
Strategies for Growth
The American Jobs Project’s report provides 15 tailored recommendations for New Mexican leaders to grow the advanced solar industry. These strategies draw on best practices to target gaps in the innovation ecosystem, access to capital, workforce development, value chain, and local market.
New Mexico could bolster advanced solar workforce pathways by providing both simulated and real on-the-job experience for students, strengthening coordination between industry and training programs, and engaging electricians in solar trades through continuing education courses. The state could reinforce the startup life cycle by encouraging faculty entrepreneurship at universities and establishing a technology maturation loan fund to bridge the commercialization “valley of death.” Government leaders could also connect with and broker support from philanthropic foundations for public invest ments in workforce training, technology development, and industry growth.
Other strategies focus on cultivating a strong local market for advanced solar technologies, especially through increased access for rural and tribal communities. These include lowering cost barriers via inclusive financing mechanisms and streamlined permitting procedures. Additionally, startups could purposefully engage with these communities for small-scale demonstration projects, helping to validate advanced solar products while expanding local access to electricity and other services.
New Mexico’s emerging advanced solar industry is a solid foundation upon which the state can grow its economy, support 6,800 jobs, and become a leading innovator and manufacturer of advanced solar technologies. Maximizing the opportunity that increasing national, regional, and global demand presents requires a concentrated effort from leaders in state and local government, industry, and academia. That’s why effective first steps for New Mexico are building a comprehensive cluster development strategy to chart a path forward and establishing a center of excellence to catalyze homegrown innovations. These efforts will put New Mexico’s advanced solar industry on the map and serve as a beacon for talent and investment.
New Mexico is well positioned to reap the benefits of a vibrant economic cluster: a resilient state economy, a robust workforce ready for the jobs of the future, an active entrepreneurial community, and a population optimistic about opportunities close to home.
The American Jobs Project is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, think-and-do tank that identifies pathways to create good-paying jobs in advanced energy and manufacturing through data-driven economic development. We empower states to claim their share of the fast-growing global economic phenomenon that is advanced energy. http://americanjobsproject.us/