Published on February 7th, 2018 | by Joshua S Hill0
US Solar Industry Lost 10,000 Jobs In 2017
February 7th, 2018 by Joshua S Hill
The US solar industry lost nearly 10,000 jobs in 2017 according to latest figures from the National Solar Job Census 2017 published this week by The Solar Foundation, the first year that jobs have decreased since the Foundation began publishing its Census in 2010.
The National Solar Job Census found that the US solar industry employed 250,271 people in 2017, a 3.8% decline on 2016 figures, or around 9,800 fewer jobs. While this is offset somewhat by the long-term trends — a 168% increase over the past seven years, from 93,000 jobs in 2010 to more than 250,000 jobs in 2017 — it nevertheless represents a tough 2017 for the US solar industry under US President Donald Trump, and presages what was already expected to be a catastrophic year for the industry in 2018.
According to The Solar Foundation, there are three key factors which contributed to the slowdown in US solar jobs in 2017. A natural slowdown followed the massive expansion which was seen in 2016, where installed capacity doubled between 2015 and 2016 in anticipation that the 30% federal investment tax credit (ITC) would expire (it was extended). 2017 installations, therefore, continued at a more moderate pace due to the industry’s natural plateauing. There were also obvious policy and economic challenges, especially in states like California, and months’ worth of uncertainty caused by the Section 201 trade case brought before the International Trade Commission by Suniva and SolarWorld.
It wasn’t all bad in 2017, with solar jobs increasing in 29 states (as well as the District of Columbia) — especially in states with emerging solar markets. States that saw significant job increases included Utah (+1,762 jobs), Minnesota (+1,383), Arizona (+1,070), New Jersey (+1,050), New York (+877), and Tennessee (+863).
Job losses were most pronounced in California (-13,636 jobs), Massachusetts (-3,053), and Nevada (-1,807).
“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,” explained Andrea Luecke, President and Executive Director at The Solar Foundation. “Uncertainty over the outcome of the trade case also had a likely impact on solar jobs growth. At the same time, the fact that jobs went up in 29 states is an encouraging sign that solar is taking hold across the country as a low-cost, sustainable, and reliable energy source.”
Obviously, 2018 will be a difficult year for the US solar industry. In January, after 9 months of uncertainty across the industry, Donald Trump imposed a 30% tariff on imported solar cells and modules in response to a Section 201 trade case filed by Suniva and SolarWorld back in April of 2017. The US Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) immediately predicted that the tariffs will cost 23,000 America solar jobs in 2018 alone, and GTM Research expects the tariffs will reduce capacity installations by 11%, or around 7.6 GW, over the next five years.
The Solar Foundation’s Census survey was out in the field during the fourth quarter of 2017 and led to tentative predictions that the US solar industry would slowly rebound in 2018 with an increase in jobs of around 5.2%. Installation jobs were expected to grow by 6.2%, adding more than 8,000 jobs, project development would grow at 5.2%, adding only 1,900 jobs, and manufacturing was expected to see a growth of around 1%, adding almost 400 jobs in 2018. Obviously, these predictions represent pre-tariff uncertainty rather than post-tariff certainty, and are likely overly optimistic in reality.
“The predictions for 2018 employment do not reflect the outcome of the case, but rather the industry’s shared uncertainty before any decision had been reached,” the Census authors predicted. “In addition to potential solar tariffs, 2018 growth will be influenced by many unpredictable factors, including economic conditions, the new tax law, access to capital — particularly via the tax equity market — and major policy shifts at the federal and state levels.”
Again, pre-tariff certainty predictions for newly installed capacity in 2018 expected 10.1 GW of new solar capacity, as compared to 11.8 GW in 2017 and the record 15.1 GW installed in 2016. This actually lines up with GTM Research’s advanced analysis published a few days after its initial analysis. In 2018 GTM predicted that installations would fall by 7% on previous expectations to 10.1 GW, before increasing to 11.9 GW in 2019 (a 16% decrease on pre-tariff predictions).
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