US Solar Jobs Declined Last Year

Photo: AP
Photo: AP

America’s solar industry lost nearly 10,000 jobs in 2017, the non-profit research firm The Solar Foundation announced on Wednesday. It’s the first time solar jobs have dipped in the United States since the foundation began tracking the fledgling industry in 2010.

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Those job losses represent an industry-wide decline of about four percent. Roughly 250,000 Americans were employed by the U.S. solar sector at the end of 2017, compared with 260,000 at the end of 2016, according to The Solar Foundation’s latest Solar Job Census.

“After six years of rapid and steady growth, the solar industry faced headwinds that led to a dip in employment in 2017, including a slowdown in the pace of new solar installations,” Andrea Luecke, President and Executive Director at The Solar Foundation, said in a statement. “Uncertainty over the outcome of the trade case also had a likely impact on solar jobs growth.”

Luecke is referring to a case brought by two ailing U.S. solar manufacturers, Suniva and SolarWind, which last month prompted President Donald Trump to slap a hefty, 30 percent tariff on imported solar panels. As politicians on both sides of the aisle and leading industry voices were quick quick to point out, the decision is likely to kill solar jobs.

Speaking to Reuters, report author Ed Gilliland said the full impact of the tariffs may not be felt until 2019.

Image: The Solar Foundation
Image: The Solar Foundation

Last year’s dip in solar jobs was driven by California, America’s solar powerhouse, which saw losses of about 14 percent, and by Massachusetts, the second largest solar employer, where jobs dropped by 21 percent.

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That’s the bad news. The good news is, the solar industry is still expected to see major employment gains over the long term, with solar installation projected as the fastest-growing source of jobs in America, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The U.S. solar workforce has nearly tripled in the last seven years, up from 93,000 workers in 2010. And despite solar’s heavy hitters seeing losses in 2017, job growth actually increased in 29 other states and the District of Columbia.

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The long-term upward trend in solar jobs reflects a steadily growing appetite for the Sun’s energy as costs drop. Solar currently makes up just under two percent of total U.S. electricity generating capacity, but that’s up from 0.1 percent in 2010, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Energy-sector related carbon dioxide emissions projections by sector, in millions of metric tons. Image: EIA
Energy-sector related carbon dioxide emissions projections by sector, in millions of metric tons. Image: EIA
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The Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) 2018 energy outlook, also released Wednesday, projected that nearly all new U.S. electricity generating capacity would be fueled by natural gas and renewables after 2022, with low natural gas prices and steadily falling solar photovoltaic costs cited as two key drivers.

Now, back to the bad news. The EIA also projected that America’s carbon footprint will stay pretty much flat foreseeable future, and that even electric power sector carbon emissions won’t change much through 2050 under a business-as-usual scenario. As Inside Climate News notes, this would place a major damper on global efforts to tackle climate change.

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This week’s solar job news is but the latest reminder that we aren’t changing our energy habits nearly fast enough.

Maddie Stone is a freelancer based in Philadelphia.

DISCUSSION

dnapl
Dense non aqueous phase liquid

Well done, Maddie.

Long winded comment to follow, but hey Earther doesn’t have a comment character limit. I’d look into that. For me at least. I don’t do snippy and breezy.

Not to go all SAT verbal simile here, but I will. Renewables like solar are closer to pollution control and site remediation technologies than they are to energy generation technologies. At this point in time. Someday in future they’ll become a no brainer engineering feasibility wise, i.e. based on effectiveness, implementation and cost.

Story time. I did research, investigation, engineering and construction of soil and groundwater remediation in a past life. And of course as one ages one starts selling the services. Many folks in this business wanted to be tech forward with sales of goods and services. That is sell this type of cleanup technology over another - almost regardless of engineering feasibility and customers needs.

This is the “awesome cool tech approach” to woo customers. However, in the environmental market place the customer only really needs his/her stack discharge or site cleaned up for the least amount of cost. And frankly these customers will never go all tech fanboy/girl - unless the tech was cheaper than another suite of techs. Sorry, but there may never be a Gizmodo for groundwater remediation tech.

Renewables are getting close to cost parity, yes. However, not at appreciable and excitable levels to simply have economics drive deployment. Also, much of the investment drive for solar has been tax benefits and grants.

So all that pollution control and site remediation technology is driven by one thing and one thing alone - government regulations spurring on - wait for it - control of pollution at discharge and cleanup of dumped waste and impacted soil and groundwater.

The entire push for wind and solar was and continues to be control of GHG emission to mitigate climate change and to a lesser extent control regular old air pollution. If there’s less regulations or government incentive - then there will be less solar business. That is until solar tech increases in capacity through perturbation jumps in conversion efficiency and storage. And of course, all cheaper than fossil fuel and nuclear.

There’s only so much of a percentage of end users (us electricity users) who give a shit where our electricity comes from. That’s why government agency with expertise is a good thing to drive renewables. Trump wants government agents all about Trump and not very up-to-speed on the agency’s doings, i.e. Rick Perry, Scott Pruitt, Ryan Zinke, Sonny Perdue, Betsy DeVos, and on and on as far as agency administration. Of course DoD is happy to give Trump a military parade.

I kind of don’t blame oil and gas (and nuke) pushing back on renewables. That’s American as apple pie. They’re like a big old angry bear. It’s not its fault for shitting in the woods. Or something like that. I kind of blame us environmental types for not fully understanding the lay of the land politically wise. And frankly being feckless at environmental communications for the past 50 years. And this is coming from someone who hates politics and to some extent people in general. It’s mutual, people don’t like me either.