Renewable Energy
Centre for Alternative Technology / Flickr

Solar Jobs Fall for First Time Since 2010

The U.S. solar industry lost 9,800 jobs last year, the first decline ever recorded since 2010, according to The Solar Foundation's latest National Solar Jobs Census.

This 3.8 percent decline was driven by a number of factors, from a slowdown of utility-scale and residential solar installations to the industry's uncertainty over President Trump's tariffs on imported solar panels.

"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," said Andrea Luecke, president and executive director at The Solar Foundation. “Uncertainty over the outcome of the trade case also had a likely impact on solar jobs growth."

President Trump's decision last month to impose 30 percent tariffs on imported solar panels and related equipment was made to protect domestic manufacturers but was criticized by most of the solar industry. The Solar Energy Industries Association warned that the decision would effectively cause the loss of roughly 23,000 American jobs this year.

However, the sector remains positive about the long-term outlook.

"While the industry faces challenges ahead, including higher costs as a result of the new tariffs, the demand for low-cost, reliable, and sustainable energy shows no sign of slowing down," George Hershman, president of Swinerton Renewable Energy, said. "In the years ahead, we are confident that solar will continue to create jobs and grow local economies across the United States."

Lynn Jurich, the co-founder and CEO of Sunrun, noted that while the tariff "restrained the industry in recent months, the fact remains that solar energy is the lowest-cost, cleanest, most abundant and accessible energy source in the world."

The Solar Foundation report showed that the number of U.S. solar jobs boomed 168 percent in the past seven years, from about 93,000 jobs in 2010 to more than 250,000 jobs in 2017—a trend that swamps other energy industries such as coal and nuclear energy.

Solar employs twice as many workers as the coal industry, almost five times as many as nuclear power, and nearly as many workers as the natural gas industry, the report found.

There are some other bright spots in The Solar Foundation's eighth annual report.

While the two states with the largest number of solar jobs nationwide saw a drop in employment (California by 14 percent, Massachusetts 21 percent), solar jobs increased in 29 other states and the District of Columbia last year. This includes states with emerging solar markets, such as Utah, Minnesota, Arizona, Colorado, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Tennessee.

Minnesota governor Mark Dayton applauded the state's "strong commitment to clean energy" for its solar workforce growth of 48 percent last year.

"We will continue doing everything we can to protect our environment and our health, while building an even stronger clean energy economy in Minnesota," Dayton added.

Here are other key findings from the report:

  • Demand-side sectors (installation, sales & distribution, and project development) lost approximately 7,500 jobs in 2017, while the manufacturing sector lost about 1,200 jobs.
  • In the five-year period between 2012 and 2017, solar employment grew by 110 percent overall or 16 percent annually, adding 131,000 jobs. Within this period, solar employment grew nine times faster than the overall U.S. economy, and one in every 100 new jobs was a solar job.
  • Solar makes up just under 2 percent of overall U.S. energy generation, yet it employs twice as many workers as the coal industry, almost five times as many as nuclear power, and nearly as many workers as the natural gas industry. (These numbers are based on 2016 data, the most recent available for comparison between industries.)
  • Women made up 27 percent of the solar workforce in 2017, down 1 percent from 2016. Veterans made up 9 percent of solar workers, which is 2 percent more than the overall U.S. workforce.
  • Solar industry wages remain competitive with similar industries and above the national average.

Show Comments ()

Trump Administration Offers 77 Million Acres in Gulf of Mexico to Oil Industry

The Trump administration is holding the biggest offshore oil and gas lease auction in U.S. history Wednesday, offering all 77 million acres of unleased, available federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico.

The sale comes as administration officials seek to rescind drilling safety rules approved after the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, reduce royalties paid by oil companies, and expand offshore drilling into every ocean in the country.

Keep reading... Show less
Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt. Mitchell Resnick

Pruitt to Restrict Use of Scientific Data in EPA Policymaking

In the coming weeks, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt is expected to announce a proposal that would limit the type of scientific studies and data the agency can use in crafting public health and environmental regulations.

The planned policy shift, first reported by E&E News, would require the EPA to only use scientific findings whose data and methodologies are made public and can be replicated.

Keep reading... Show less
Mity / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

20% of U.S. Diets Responsible for Almost Half of Country’s Food-Related Emissions, Study Finds

If you've been deliberating about going vegetarian, a study published Tuesday in Environmental Letters might give you the final push.

Keep reading... Show less
Sea Shepherd small boat assists the Liberian Coast Guard to chase down the F/V Hai Lung. Sea Shepherd

Notorious Toothfish Poacher Arrested by Liberian Coast Guard, Assisted by Sea Shepherd

A notorious Antarctic and Patagonian toothfish poaching vessel, famous for plundering the Antarctic, was arrested on March 13 in waters belonging to the West African state of Liberia by the Liberian Coast Guard, with assistance from the marine conservation group Sea Shepherd.

The F/V Hai Lung, known to the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) by its previous name "Kily," was transiting through Liberian waters when it was boarded and inspected by a Liberian Coast Guard team working alongside Sea Shepherd crew on board Sea Shepherd's patrol vessel M/Y Sam Simon.

Keep reading... Show less

7 Must-See Films at the 42nd Cleveland International Film Fest

It's that time, again!

EcoWatch is proud to be a media partner of the Cleveland International Film Festival (CIFF), now celebrating its 42nd year. This year, EcoWatch is honored to be sponsoring Anote's Ark. This documentary spotlights Kiribati, a small remote island facing devastating effects due to climate change.

Keep reading... Show less
Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: 'We have approved Bayer's plans to take over Monsanto because the parties' remedies, worth well over €6 billion, meet our competition concerns in full.' EU Commission Twitter

EU Approves Controversial Bayer-Monsanto Merger

The European Union approved Bayer's takeover of Monsanto, a major hurdle in the $66 billion merger that would create the world's largest integrated seed and pesticide conglomerate.

The European Commission said the German chemical-maker's takeover of the St. Louis-based agribusiness giant is "conditional on an extensive remedy package, which addresses the parties' overlaps in seeds, pesticides and digital agriculture."

Keep reading... Show less
Todd Porter & Diane Cu

How Much Daily Activity You Need to Burn off 9 Healthy (But High-Calorie) Foods

By Luke Doyle

A healthy lifestyle is fueled by nutrient-rich foods that give your body the energy it needs. But some of these foods come with high calorie counts and the "healthy" label doesn't mean it's okay to consume unlimited amounts of them.

Keep reading... Show less
Marine debris laden beach in Hawaii. NOAA Marine Debris Program / Flickr

Ocean Plastic Projected to Triple Within Seven Years

If we don't act now, plastic pollution in the world's oceans is projected to increase three-fold within seven years, according to a startling new report.

The Future of the Sea report, released Wednesday for the UK government, found that human beings across the globe produce more than 300 million metric tons of plastic per year. Unfortunately, a lot of that material ends up in our waters, with the total amount of plastic debris in the sea predicted to increase from 50 million metric tons in 2015 to 150 million metric tons by 2025.

Keep reading... Show less


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