Though Donald Trump’s tariffs on solar panels has produced rough weather for solar jobs in the U.S. since their imposition in late January 2018, capping a two-year period that saw 18,000 jobs lost, the Solar Foundation’s latest report offers a cautious forecast for clearer skies and a rebounding industry in 2019.
“2016 was the best year on record for solar energy in the United States,” writes Forbes, with a U.S. Department of Energy report showing “that solar energy was responsible for a much larger share of employment in the electric power sector (43%) than the whole of the fossil fuel industry combined (22%).”
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With “such robust numbers,” the business magazine adds, “it seemed as though solar energy, and renewables more broadly, were about to revolutionize the energy sector in the United States and lead the push towards cleaner energy and lower carbon emissions.”
The next two years confirmed a revolution delayed, with the industry shedding 10,000 jobs in 2017 and a further 8,000 in 2018. While some of the losses owed to the completion of projects, most were collateral damage from Trump’s decision to slap a 30% tariff on imported solar panels, in a first salvo in his trade war with China.
Knowing full well that the tariffs would exact a hard toll on Americans, reports Forbes, industry leaders like Abigail Hopper, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industry Association, urged Trump to “put America first and say no to solar tariffs” that would harm “one of the fastest-growing industries in America.”
While the industry did attempt to “future-proof” against the shocks of likely tariffs by stockpiling solar panel imports, “the growing uncertainty created by the tariffs led to many developers cancelling and freezing billions of dollars of investments and projects,” the magazine notes. While the tariffs won’t last forever (mandated to decrease 5% yearly, they will vanish in 2022), they have already severely battered the industry, leaving “solar executives lamenting the increased costs and the loss of several large-scale projects.”
Case in point, reports Forbes, is North Carolina-based Pine Gate Renewables, which in 2018 “only completed half of the 400 MW of solar projects it had planned, and halted its hiring of 30 new employees.”
But the Solar Foundation’s latest industry survey projects 7% growth in solar jobs in 2019. While acknowledging that its predictions have been wrong before (it projected 2018 job growth at 5.2%), the organization expresses confidence “that the outlook for the solar industry is improving, and that solar employment will resume a growth path in 2019 and beyond.”