After years of soaring growth, the number of U.S. jobs in the solar industry fell in 2017, according to the Solar Job Census 2017. Authors of the census, a project since 2010 of the Solar Foundation, calculated the number of solar jobs last year at 250,271, a drop of 9,800 workers from the previous year, and a 4 percent reduction in the solar workforce. Of the total, some 7,500 jobs were lost in installation, sales and distribution, and project development, with about 1,200 shed in solar manufacturing. Given the record-breaking 2016 growth, a number of close observers had expected a modest pullback.
In 2016, more than 51,000 solar jobs had been added to the workforce, a 25 percent gain over the previous year. Over the past seven years, the solar workforce has grown by 168 percent, an addition of 157,000 jobs.
The census authors project that more jobs will be added in 2018, continuing the previous trend. But they made that forecast before the White House announced its 30 percent tariff on solar panel imports.
One big reason given for continuing growth is the number of states that are driving solar and wind installations with their renewable portfolio standards. These mandate that a certain amount of electricity must come from renewable sources by a certain deadline. New York state, for instance, requires 50 percent renewables by 2030, while Arizona requires 15 percent by 2025, and Hawai’i has set its sights on 100 percent by 2045. Emma Foehringer Merchant reports:
“States are still setting their renewable portfolio standards; they’re still increasing them or talking about increasing them,” said Ed Gilliland, senior director of programs at The Solar Foundation. “We will likely experience some headwinds over the next year or two, but certainly the stronger states can sail forward. I think we can still get some emerging states to do well, but they need strong policies to support growth.”
Despite the 2017 job losses in well-established solar markets like California’s, where 40 percent of nation’s solar capacity has been built, 29 other states and the District of Columbia saw their solar workforces grow in 2017.
Measured against the total U.S. workforce, the percentage of African American employees in the solar industry is about half as large and there are 20 percent fewer women. The industry has higher percentages of Latino and Asian employees.