Renewable Energy
Solar panel array at the George Washington Carver Center in Belstville, MD. Tom Witham / USDA / Flickr

Solar Industry in U.S. Clouded by New Uncertainty

By Kieran Cooke

The U.S. solar industry is losing its shine. Although solar power is seen as a key way to avoid the use of climate-changing fossil fuels, U.S. solar companies are cutting investments and laying off workers. An industry employing more than 230,000 people and with an estimated worth of $28 billion is now warning of trouble ahead.

More than 10,000 jobs in solar were lost in 2017, says a report by the Solar Foundation, a non-profit research firm.

The clouds spreading across the U.S. solar sector are in part due to a slowdown in sales in so-called mature markets in California and the Northeast, both areas of double digit solar growth in recent years.

However, industry analysts say the main reason for the present travails in the solar sector is the announcement earlier this year by President Donald Trump of a 30 percent tariff on imported solar panels.

Help at Home

The aim, said Trump, is to support domestic manufacturers and stop the mass import of solar panels, mainly made in southeast Asia, South Korea and China. At present about 90 percent of solar panels installed in the U.S. are imported.

"We'll be making solar products now much more so in the U.S.," said Trump, announcing the imposition of tariffs in January.

"Our companies have been decimated and those companies are going to come back strong … a lot of workers, a lot of jobs."

The overwhelming majority of people involved in the U.S. solar sector are involved with installation and maintenance; a large number of firms also manufacture subsidiary products, such as racks for mounting the panels.

While some U.S.-based manufacturers of solar panels—there are now very few of them—have welcomed news of the tariffs, most in the industry say the move is likely to drive up costs in what is a highly competitive energy sector.

Chinese Domination

China now dominates the global solar power market; it's the source of two thirds of the world's total solar panel capacity and it also buys up half of the world's production.

Chinese manufacturers have invested heavily in research and development and their solar products have become increasingly sophisticated.

U.S. industry analysts say the products of domestic companies will be too expensive and will not be able to compete with other energies such as wind power or gas. Demand will fall, and jobs will be lost rather than gained.

From 2010 to 2016, solar power installations in the U.S. went into overdrive, driven by falling costs and a range of government incentives. The industry says nearly 50GW of capacity is now installed—enough to power 10 million homes.

The Trump administration has made no secret of its wish to promote the use of fossil fuels—including coal—and remove incentives which were aimed at widening the use of renewable energies.

Some in the solar industry say that with or without the tariffs—which have been imposed on a sliding scale for a four-year period, with a 15 percent charge in the final year—solar power is very much here to stay. Demand might slow, but it will not stop.

In anticipation of the tariff hike, solar companies stockpiled a vast amount of imported solar panels last year; in the last three months of 2017, U.S. imports of solar panels from China increased by more than 1,000 percent—enough to supply the industry for several months.

It seems that Trump's efforts to discourage the use of renewable energy are not working in the way he might wish.

Recently, growth in solar power installations has been particularly strong in the Midwest and South—in pro-Trump states that have traditionally turned their backs on renewable energy and supported the president's fossil fuel policies.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Climate News Network.

Show Comments ()

Those Little Produce Stickers? They’re a Big Waste Problem

By Dan Nosowitz

Those little produce stickers are ubiquitous fruits and vegetables everywhere. But, as CBC notes, they're actually a significant problem despite their small size.

Keep reading... Show less

Despite Trump’s Bluster, U.S. Officials and Scientists Maintain Climate Work with International Partners

Trump has loudly declared his intention to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris agreement, but, behind the tweets and the headlines, U.S. officials and scientists have carried on working with international partners to fight climate change, Reuters reported Wednesday.

Keep reading... Show less
Gina Loudon and administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt speaking at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. Gage Skidmore

EPA Sued Over Failure to Release Correspondence With Heartland Institute

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is being sued for its "unlawful and unreasonable delay" in responding to requests for information about the agency's communications with the Heartland Institute, according to a complaint by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).

The Heartland Institute is an Illinois-based think tank that rejects the science of man-made climate change and has received funding from the Koch brothers and the fossil fuel industry.

Keep reading... Show less
Trump Watch
Aerial photo of Duke Energy Coal Ash Spill. Wake Forest University Center for Energy, Environment & Sustainability

Trump Administration Seeks to Gut Water Pollution Safeguards, Putting Communities at Risk

By Mary Anne Hitt

A Hollywood scriptwriter couldn't make this up. One day after new data revealed widespread toxic water contamination near coal ash disposal sites, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Scott Pruitt announced a proposal to repeal the very 2015 EPA safeguards that had required this data to be tracked and released in the first place. Clean water is a basic human right that should never be treated as collateral damage on a corporate balance sheet, but that is exactly what is happening.

Keep reading... Show less
Impossible Foods

Impossible Burger Executive Grilled at Sustainable Foods Summit

An executive from a company selling a genetically engineered meat alternative faced tough questions at the Sustainable Foods Summit held in San Francisco at the end of January.

Keep reading... Show less
Elephant family in Kenya. Nzomo Victor / Flickr

Why Trump’s New Trophy Hunting Council Is a Disaster

By Elly Pepper

In early November—the same week the Trump administration announced its disastrous decision to allow elephant and lion trophy imports from Zimbabwe and Zambia—the administration decided to create an advisory committee, the International Wildlife Conservation Council (IWCC), to advise Trump on how to enhance trophy hunters' ability to hunt internationally.

Yup, that means the administration now has a council dedicated exclusively to promoting the killing of more imperiled species, like elephants and lions, for sport. The council's mandate includes counseling Trump on the economic, conservation, and anti-poaching benefits of trophy hunting, of which there are very few. Sadly, Trump doesn't want advice on the many drawbacks of trophy hunting.

Keep reading... Show less
A robot bee from a season three episode of Black Mirror on Netflix

Walmart Files Patent for Robot Bees

With the mass die-off of bees spelling trouble for agriculture, the world's largest retailer has filed patents for the use of "unmanned vehicles," or drones, to aid with pollination and crop production.

In U.S. Patent Office documents made public last week, Walmart has applied for six patents on drones designed to identify pest damage, spray pesticides and pollinate plants.

Keep reading... Show less
The iconic moai of Easter Island are threatened by erosion caused by rising seas. Aupaelfary / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Climate Change Threatens Easter Island

Easter Island has long served as a reminder of what happens to a civilization when the environment it depends upon collapses. Now, the iconic remains of that civilization are under threat from a new environmental challenge: global climate change.

Easter Island, Rapa Nui in Polynesian, is surrounded by statues called moai situated on top of ahu, or platforms. But according to an in-depth report for The New York Times published Thursday, the moai are now at risk from erosion caused by sea level rise.

Keep reading... Show less


The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!