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