About New Mexico

Report published: April 3, 2018

New Mexico faces a growing need for good-paying jobs to address high unemployment and a significant population of underemployed and low-wage workers. The state’s 6.1 percent unemployment rate jumps to 11.3 percent when accounting for marginally attached and underemployed workers, which is among the highest in the nation. Economic growth has been stifled by New Mexico’s overreliance on revenue from the oil and gas industry and on employment by the federal government. Efforts to diversify the state economy and foster good-paying manufacturing jobs could expand workforce opportunities for New Mexicans and stimulate economic growth.

Extensive research and over sixty interviews with stakeholders and experts in New Mexico have identified the advanced solar industry as a promising job creator and economic driver in the state. Whereas New Mexico has seen growth in multiple advanced energy industries, such as natural gas and wind, the advanced solar industry holds the most potential to increase manufacturing jobs in the state. While Chinese manufacturers have cornered the global market for conventional solar cells, our research shows that New Mexico is poised to capture a growing segment of the solar market by becoming a leading producer of advanced solar technologies. These technologies leverage enhanced form and function to create hyper-efficient, inexpensive, multifunctional, and easy-to-integrate 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 thermal energy storage can quickly meet demand across a utility network.

Through the advanced solar manufacturing industry, New Mexico can leverage its numerous strengths to take advantage of expanding opportunities, such as:

  • Capitalizing on increasing technology demand. The North American advanced solar industry is projected to grow 16.8 percent annually through 2030, and New Mexico could benefit from this growth.
  • Diversifying the economy through increased manufacturing capacity. Advanced solar manufacturing, which is already supported by fifteen New Mexican manufacturers, could mitigate the impact of volatility in state revenue from the oil and gas industry, reduce dependence on government jobs, and bolster the state’s manufacturing base.
  • Strengthening the local solar market. By deploying New Mexico-made technologies, local advanced solar businesses could capitalize on increasing in-state solar demand and bolster the current installed solar capacity of 691.6 MW.
  • Leveraging cross-cutting research and industry expertise. New Mexico is home to three national labs and three research universities that could drive innovative research and technology transfer in advanced solar, materials science, nanotechnology, photonics, and microelectronics.
  • Bolstering creative innovations in infrastructure. The state’s vibrant visual arts culture could design creative solar applications that enable energy generation while enhancing local aesthetics and preserving the scenic landscape.
  • Supporting quality local jobs statewide. With forward-thinking solutions, the advanced solar industry could support over 6,800 direct, indirect, and induced jobs in New Mexico annually through 2030. This projection more than doubles the current solar workforce.

To realize these opportunities, state and local leaders can pursue strategies that create a strong foundation for industry growth in advanced solar technology and help New Mexico’s businesses grow, innovate, and outcompete regional, national, and global competitors. In today’s competitive, globalized economy, businesses are more likely to thrive in cities and states that offer a rich innovation ecosystem, provide fertile grounds for capital investment, boast a highly skilled workforce, and offer clear policy signals. By having a close network of partners and suppliers, New Mexican companies can reap the benefits of increased productivity and operational efficiency, amplifying local job creation and economic growth.

Capitalizing on this opportunity offers real benefits for the state economy and New Mexico’s residents. Annually through 2030, advanced solar technology can support over 6,800 direct jobs from manufacturing and materials development, indirect jobs from suppliers, and induced jobs from spending in the local economy. This industry offers a diverse array of good-paying jobs that cater to various education and experience levels, including electrical engineering technicians, materials scientists, and industrial production managers. Policymakers can support these jobs by taking advantage of increasing global demand and overcoming barriers to industry growth.

Summary of Recommendations

The analysis presented in this report culminates in recommendations for New Mexico’s leaders based on best practices in the United States and abroad. Each recommendation identifies strategies to address barriers to industry growth or capitalize on untapped opportunities in the advanced solar industry. Specifically, New Mexico could target challenges in each foundational building block: the innovation ecosystem, access to capital, workforce development, value chain build-out, and local market growth for advanced solar technology. While the recommendations are intended to be complementary and would be more powerful if adopted as a package, each can also be viewed as a stand-alone option.

Innovation Ecosystem

Establish an Advanced Solar Center of Excellence
New Mexico could establish a Center of Excellence to strategically coordinate advanced solar-related R&D across universities, house open-access testing services, and offer entrepreneurial expertise to support executive training and business development.

Bolster Commercialization of University Innovation
To cultivate a strong commercialization culture, New Mexico’s public universities could acknowledge technology transfer activities in tenure and promotion reviews, institute faculty mentorship and/or startup support programs, and support entrepreneurial leaves of absence.

Facilitate Community-Based Pilot Programs
New Mexico’s non-governmental organizations and philanthropic foundations could help fund small-scale demonstration projects to help local advanced solar startups validate their products while extending access to electricity and other basic services to local communities.

Appoint a Foundation Liaison to Increase Funding for Essential Programs
New Mexico could appoint a Foundation Liaison to connect with and broker support from philanthropic foundations as an alternative funding pathway for public investments in workforce training, technology development, and industry growth.

Access to Capital

Establish a Technology Maturation Loan Fund to Fill Financing Gaps
To bridge the commercialization “valley of death” for local startups, the New Mexico Legislature could establish a new Technology Maturation Loan Fund, offering low-interest, non-recourse loans that are convertible into equity for future fundraising rounds.

Expand Sources of Capital Available to Startups
To follow on state efforts like the Catalyst Fund, New Mexico could continue to increase and diversify available startup capital by attracting program-related investments from philanthropic foundations. Because foundations’ scope of returns is broader than just market return, they are able to make direct, long-term investments in startups, especially those pursuing high-risk, cutting-edge technologies with social benefits.

Workforce Development

Increase Work-Based Learning Opportunities for Students
New Mexico could improve youth engagement in education and employment by increasing opportunities to develop job readiness and industry-related skills, such as simulated workplaces and integrated basic education and skills training.

Target Student Loan Repayment Assistance to Improve Talent Retention
In light of significant out-migration of talent, New Mexico could incentivize and attract college graduates to work in the state by providing a tax credit for student loan repayments, possibly leveraging a portion of the Lottery Scholarship program.

Coordinate Regional Solar Training to Align with Industry Needs
Either through a community college or industry association, New Mexico could formalize coordination between in-state solar businesses and solar training programs to ensure that these programs are responsive to industry needs and creating pathways to local jobs.

Encourage Complementary Skills Training
To meet future solar workforce demand in New Mexico, solar training programs could apply to become state-approved electrical continuing education and strengthen pathways for electricians to work in the solar industry.

Value Chain

Build a Comprehensive Advanced Solar Cluster Development Strategy
In order to put New Mexico on the map as an advanced solar cluster, stakeholders across industry, academia, and government could collaborate to create and execute a comprehensive cluster development strategy that encourages knowledge sharing, asset growth, and high-impact marketing.

Bolster Foreign Direct Investment Efforts
The New Mexico Legislature could increase funding for foreign direct investment efforts to support new jobs and inject capital into the economy while strengthening the state’s position as an advanced solar hub. State efforts could include promoting cluster assets on international platforms, building relationships with target countries, and assisting foreign companies interested in locating in New Mexico.

Local Market

Streamline Solar Permitting Processes
New Mexico’s Regulation and Licensing Department could create an online portal for solar permitting that cities and counties can opt to use, helping to standardize approval processes and reduce soft costs for potential customers and businesses.

Enable Inclusive Financing Mechanisms for Electrical Upgrades
New Mexico could enable on-bill financing to reduce the high upfront cost of energy upgrades like advanced solar. This inclusive lending mechanism allows customers to finance energy upgrades incrementally on their utility bill.

Include a Concentrating Solar Power Carve-out in an Expanded Renewable Portfolio Standard
In light of power plant closures, the New Mexico Legislature could increase the renewable portfolio standard to accommodate a carve-out for concentrating solar power with thermal energy storage, which offers utilities a consistent and fast-ramping power supply.