Solar power jobs in the US fell by 3.8% in 2017 – a total of approximately 9,800 jobs per The Solar Foundation’s annual jobs survey. This partially aligns with current projections of total solar installations falling by approximately 20% in 2017.
The numbers under the hood are far more complex though. The largest, most developed markets were hit hardest. California itself lost over 13,000 total solar jobs, while Massachusetts and Nevada lost 3,052 and 1,807, respectively. We saw growth in job count in 29 states and Washington DC.
The fall in jobs happened for three main reasons. The primary reason being that 2017 followed the record growth of over 100% in 2016 due to a projected tax credit expiration. The secondary reason is probably due to state level incentive complexity – for instance, Massachusetts’ SREC II program was in flux, and Nevada lost net metering recently. The third reason (and maybe it was second largest) is the Suniva tariff slowing down potential growth plans, while actually leading to a few signed jobs being cancelled. I bet this has had an affect mostly in states like Texas where utility-scale projects that were on the edges of financial viability were slowed.
[The full state level job count breakdown on TheSolarFoundation.org (PDF)]
The top three states in losses represented 84% of all job losses. Volume of installations by sector also varied – utility fell heavily, residential a small amount – while small business/commercial/industrial grew.
California saw a lot of 2016 utility-scale solar power construction. Much of this pullback in utility-scale construction was planned before the Suniva case arose – utility-scale solar projects take years to come to fruition, and that segment of industry was what made 2016 just a big blowout year. Also, California is ground zero for residential solar leases – and with the market moving away from leases toward cash purchases – residential as a whole, and in California, has pulled back.
California’s losses alone were more than the rest of the nation’s gains (12,311) combined.
Massachusetts and Nevada had a bit more complex reasoning for their pull back – though they were probably led by losses much like California’s utility/residential challenges. The very successful Massachusetts SREC II program ended in early 2016, and was being pulled along with extensions. This led to business discontinuity for all of 2017 as sales people weren’t sure exactly what was going to be sold when (as of today, two full years later, we are still running on an extension of that SREC II program). In Nevada, we saw the result of net metering being pulled from the state via a legislative action (that was later mostly reversed). California itself had some political challenges as time of use charges, and their constant evolving rate marketplace also increased sales complexity.
I’d argue that if there was one state that truly did suffer due to the Suniva/Trump Tariff – it’d be Texas. The state has cheap energy, little incentive support, and is more recently turning into a major solar installation location. That momentum is self-generated due to business forecasts – and it’s focused on utility-scale projects. In a price sensitive market, a perceived increase of 10% will definitely put projects on hold while the dust settles.
The job gains were spread across 29 states and Washington DC – the total jobs gained in these 29 states were 12,311. The reasons for growth across these states varied. Minnesota and New York, plus many others, instituted strong policies that have led to much solar growth. Other states are growing simply because the price of solar has fallen so much.
Most project a smaller volume of solar power to be installed in 2018 versus 2017, mostly due to the Suniva/Trump Tariff, but also due to the utility-scale development cycle still catching up after its 2016 blast off.
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