A report released by Canberra-based think tank The Australia Institute claims that the solar energy sector will emerge as a major employment generator for the nation, spawning 8,000 more jobs by 2018.

According to the report, solar PV already employs more people in Australia than coal-fired power stations, with 13,000 people working in the sector at present.

The authors of the report point to roaring growth in the adoption of photovoltaic systems by Australian households as a key factor behind the solar sector’s mounting employment numbers.

“The solar industry has expanded rapidly in recent years,” said the report. “Large falls in the price of solar panels combined with assistance from Australian governments has allowed the industry to grow from just 8000 PV systems in 2007 to more than 1 million in 2013.”

Around 2.6 million people in Australia, or 11 per cent of the total population, currently derive some of their electricity from solar power. The Australia Institute expects the adoption of solar PV to surge over the coming decades, accounting for nearly 30 per cent of Australia’s electricity supply by mid-century.

This will in turn raise employment level in the sector, particularly as technological advances make photovoltaic installations an even more economical source of energy.

“The solar industry is likely to become an even bigger employer in the near future as the price of both solar panels and battery storage come down,” said the report.

The Australia Institute warns, however, that while technological advances will expedite the uptake of solar PV, regulatory decisions could have an adverse impact on the growth of the industry.

“While falling costs and growing consumer support for solar PV will inevitably drive significant increases in market share, a potential barrier to the short term growth of the solar PV industry in Australia is the ability of the existing energy industry to secure regulatory protections which impede, or increase the cost of, solar PV installation,” said the report.

The Australia Institute study comes just prior to the release of the report from a review of the Renewable Energy Target (RET) commissioned by the federal government, which has triggered widespread jitters within the industry.

Key figures in Australia’s clean power sector suggest the industry faces potential demise if the renewable energy target is rescinded, leading to the permanent shelving of projects which have already been approved.

John Grimes, chief executive of the Australia Solar Council, said uncertainty surrounding the fate of RET had already taken its toll on investment, leaving big projects in Australia “dead.” According to Grimes, the only way of reviving them is for the federal government to change its stance on RET.

Nation-wide levels of investment in large-scale renewable energy have plunged in Australia of late, falling to $40 million in the year to June from $2.7 billion last year.