The U.S. solar power industry workforce expanded by 150,000 jobs in the period 2010 to 2018, the latest census from the Solar Foundation found. Last year alone, however, the sector shed almost 8,000 jobs, or 3.2 percent, the non-profit also said.
The decline in workforce was naturally attributed to the tariff war started by President Donald Trump with China, but in truth, the 2018 decline was actually smaller than the decline in jobs in the solar industry between 2016 and 2017: in that period the sector’s workforce contracted by more than 9,000 jobs.
This year, despite the ongoing trade conflict, the Solar Foundation expects job additions to the sector to pick up and the long-term outlook for the sector is upbeat.
“Despite two challenging years, the long-term outlook for this industry remains positive as even more Americans turn to low-cost solar energy and storage solutions to power their homes and businesses, the executive director of the Solar Foundation, Andrea Luecke said. “However, it will take exceptional leadership at the federal, state, and local levels to spur this growth and address the urgent challenge of climate change. Expanding solar energy and storage across America will create high-quality jobs, reduce carbon emissions, boost local economies, and build resilient and adaptive communities.” Related: Green New Deal Critics See Red
The U.S. solar industry reacted strongly to President Trump’s intention to reduce the trade deficint the country has with China by imposing tariffs on a growing range of Chinese goods. PV panels were added to the first round of tariffs, sparking concern among U.S. solar companies their products and services would become a lot less competitive when cheap Chinese PV panels stop being cheap.
However, just a few months later in 2018, China surprised everyone by announcing that it would not issue approvals for any new solar power installations this year and would also cut the feed-in tariff subsidy that has been a major driver of the solar business in the country that accounts for as much as 50 percent of capacity.
This caused a major price slump in PV panel prices, by as much as 12 percent, offering a windfall to U.S. and other solar installation builders and service providers. Despite this, costs went up, with a September 2018 report from Energy Sage calculating that the cost of a residential solar installation was 5.6 percent higher than it would have been without the tariffs. This amounted to US$960 per household or US$236.5 million in total for the period between September 2017 and September 2018.
In addition to the higher installation costs resulting from higher panel prices, the tariffs also led to the shelving of a number of expansion projects worth US$2.5 billion as of June, Reuters reported at the time. The figure compared with US$1 billion announced in local panel manufacturing capacity expansion, so the net effect was negative.
Actually, it was this shelving that contributed considerably to the 2018 jobs decline in the solar industry, the Solar Foundation said. Now, it seems, the dust is beginning to settle and these projects would be taken off the shelf with more jobs opening up in the growing sector.
By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com
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