U.S. Solar Power Industry Suffers First Workforce Decline

The United States’ solar power industry has suffered its first workforce decline of the decade. According to an industry report, the industry lost 3.8 percent of its jobs, or about 9,800 workers, in 2017. It was the first time employment has contracted in the fast-growing industry since The Solar Foundation began tracking solar jobs in 2010 with the National Solar Jobs Census. The census was conducted last October and November.

There were steep losses in mature markets like California and Massachusetts where installation growth has slowed. California lost 14 percent of its solar industry positions, about 13,000 jobs. Massachusetts lost 24 percent and Nevada lost 22 percent.

The slowdown was attributed to several factors, including policy challenges in some states and uncertainty over Trump administration tariffs on imported solar panels. President Donald Trump imposed 30 percent tariffs on imported solar panels last month. About 86 percent of solar companies said that the tariffs would hurt their businesses. However, the impact of the tariffs may not be fully felt until 2019.

Demand for residential systems has slowed because incentives have become less lucrative. Part of the 2016 boom came from a rush to finish projects before the potential termination of the federal Investment Tax Credit. While the tax credit has been extended, it is uncertain how long it will remain in effect.

Despite the overall decline, 29 states and Washington, D.C. saw job growth. California kept its place at the top of the list with the most solar jobs. Massachusetts’ non-residential market is still booming, expected to blow past its 2016 records. Utah, Minnesota and Arizona had the highest increased numbers of solar positions. Minnesota reported a 48 percent increase in solar jobs in the state.

The Solar Foundation said the long-term job trajectory is still very positive for solar. The industry saw record-setting growth in 2016 and previous years. Within a broader context, solar employment has grown by 168 percent since 2010. The Solar Foundation is projecting employment of more than 263,000 by the end of this year, an increase of 5 percent. However, that forecast is based on projections made before the tariffs were imposed.

According to federal jobs data, employment in the solar industry far outpaces that of the coal, wind, and nuclear energy industries. About 78 percent of the solar industry’s jobs are in “demand-side” roles like installation, project development, and sales.

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