Solar Jobs Census: U.S. solar workforce loses 8,000 jobs in 2018 due to tariffs and state policy changes

  • Feb 13, 2019
  • Solar Power World

The U.S. solar industry employs 242,343 workers as of 2018, a decline of nearly 8,000 jobs (3.2%) compared to 2017, according to the National Solar Jobs Census 2018 released today by The Solar Foundation.

This marks the second year in a row that solar jobs have declined after seven years of steady growth. At the same time, solar jobs increased in 29 states in 2018, including in many states with emerging solar markets.

States with the highest employment gains include Florida, Illinois, Texas and New York. Other states that saw job growth include Ohio, Washington, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Virginia and Tennessee. The full report and a complete list of solar jobs by state is available at SolarJobsCensus.org.

The Solar Foundation, a nonprofit educational and research organization, issues the National Solar Jobs Census each year to provide comprehensive and reliable data on the U.S. solar workforce. Overall, solar employment has grown 159% since the first Census was released in 2010, adding nearly 150,000 well-paying jobs across all 50 states.

The 2018 National Solar Jobs Census for the first time includes jobs numbers for Puerto Rico, which has 1,997 solar workers as of 2018. With Puerto Rico jobs included, the total number of U.S. solar jobs comes to 244,340.

“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,” said Andrea Luecke, President and Executive Director at The Solar Foundation. “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.”

Nationwide, the jobs decline in 2018 reflects a slowdown in installed solar capacity. Solar companies delayed many utility-scale projects in late 2017 while awaiting the outcome of a petition for new tariffs on solar panels and cells. These delays led to reduced capacity growth and fewer jobs in the first three quarters of 2018.

“The impact these unnecessary tariffs are having on America’s economy and its workers should not be ignored,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). “The damage, from a decline in jobs to a decline in deployment, far outweighs any potential benefits the administration intended. We hope this data serves as a wake-up call to the administration that the Section 201 tariffs should be reversed before any more Americans lose their jobs.”

At the state level, policy challenges and a difficult business climate contributed to lower jobs numbers in some states with established solar markets. In other states, supportive policies and the rapidly declining cost of solar technologies helped drive an increase in employment in 2018.

“We are proud of the solar job growth in Wisconsin. It solidifies our commitment to getting our state on track for a future driven by renewable energy that will make Wisconsin a stronger, better place to live, work and play,” said Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers. “We look forward to continuing our promise to build a clean economy that incentivizes energy innovation, diversifies Wisconsin jobs and energy sources, and promotes efficiency, affordability, and accessibility in clean energy production.”

“I’m proud that Minnesota continues to be a clean energy leader in the Midwest,” said Minnesota Governor Tim Walz. “While our solar workforce continued to grow last year, we need to do even more to develop and deploy renewable energy and continue to build a strong clean energy economy in Minnesota.”

Other key findings from the National Solar Jobs Census 2018 include:

Approximately 155,000 solar jobs, or two-thirds of the total, are in the installation and project development sector. Of these, about 87,000 jobs (56%) are focused on the residential market segment. The non-residential segment includes 46,000 jobs (30%), including about 12,500 jobs in community solar. The utility-scale market comprises 22,000 jobs (14%).

Solar workforce demographics saw little change from the previous year. In 2018, women made up 26% of the workforce; Latino or Hispanic workers made up 17%; black or African American workers made up 8 percent; and Asian workers made up 9%.

In 2018, 26% of solar establishments reported it was “very difficult” to find qualified candidates to fill open positions, a substantial increase from the 18% reporting such challenges in 2017.

With a backlog of utility-scale projects and new policy incentives in key states, the outlook for solar jobs expected to improve in 2019. Survey respondents predict that solar jobs will increase 7% in 2019, bringing the total to 259,400 jobs.

“As one of the largest utility and commercial solar contractors in the U.S., we were impacted by several factors that caused market instability in 2018,” said George Hershman, President of Swinerton Renewable Energy. “Tariffs on solar cells and modules, steel and aluminum increased costs and impacted projects that were already in the pipeline. Despite these economic factors, we began 2019 with a robust pipeline that includes new projects in existing and emerging markets. Together with industry partners, we will continue to advocate at the federal level in support of long-term solutions that support growth for solar energy.”

This year’s National Solar Jobs Census is based on a rigorous survey of solar establishments conducted between September and October 2018. The survey included approximately 59,300 phone calls and over 49,000 emails. The survey was administered to 13,945 separate establishments, of which 2,697 provided full or substantially completed surveys.

“This report highlights that in order to continue adding jobs, the solar industry is going to have to work harder to reduce the cost of going solar,” said Samuel Adeyemo, co-founder and COO of Aurora Solar. “Over the past seven years, this was accomplished by lowering module prices and democratizing financing. At Aurora, we believe that over the next seven years, it will come from reducing soft costs, such that solar gets to the point where it is the default option for most homes and businesses.”

“Google is very proud to be the largest corporate purchaser of renewable energy in the world,” said Urs Hölzle, Senior Vice President of Technical Infrastructure at Google Cloud. “We deploy solar because it helps the environment and the economy; our total investment in energy from solar and other renewable resources exceeds the amount of electricity used by our operations around the world. An added benefit of that achievement is the enormous job creation that renewable energy deployment spurs – as borne out by the findings of The Solar Foundation’s 2018 Solar Jobs Census.”

News item from The Solar Foundation

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