A decline in incentives, concerns over tariffs and steep losses in mature markets led to a drop in employment in the US solar industry.  eSolar photo.

Jobs lost in US solar industry due to a drop in utility-scale and residential solar installations

The US solar industry says it lost nearly 10,000 jobs in 2017 on slowing installation growth in mature markets like California and Massachusetts, according to a report by The Solar Foundation.

This is the first drop in employment rates in the solar industry since the foundation began tracking solar jobs in 2010.

In 2017, across the US, solar employment fell by 3.8 per cent to 250,271 jobs from 260,077 in 2016.  The decline is due to a drop in utility-scale and residential solar installations.  As well, industry concerns about President Donald Trump’s tariffs on imported solar panels were also to blame for the decline.

Despite the job losses, employment in the US solar industry is greater than coal, wind and nuclear energy, according to federal jobs data.

US solar installations dropped last year from record highs in 2016.  Reuters reports in that year, developers were rushing to take advantage of a federal tax credit that expired in 2016.  The credit has since been extended by Congress, but companies are now working to rebuild their sales and project pipelines.

Residential markets in California, Massachusetts and Nevada have slowed as incentives to switch to solar have become less lucrative.

Strong job growth in the US solar industry has been noted, however, in Minnesota, Arizona, Utah, New Jersey, New York and Tennessee.

The Solar Foundation expects growth in solar employment to resume in 2019, forecasting over 263,000 jobs by the end of 2019.

The forecast was made before President Trump imposed 30 per cent tariffs on imported solar panels.  Ed Gilliland of the Solar Foundation says the impact of the tariffs may not be fully known until next year.

The tariffs benefit solar manufacturers who say they cannot compete with cheaper panels from overseas.  The Solar Energy Industries Association trade group opposed the tariffs and argued the move would drive up prices for solar installers and developers.

Almost 78 per cent of US solar jobs are in installation, sales and project development.  Only 15 per cent are in manufacturing, according to the Solar Foundation’s report.