The dramatic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic have hit every sector of the U.S. economy hard, with renewable energy being no exception. Today, BW Research released an analysis of unemployment data that shows more than 106,000 clean energy workers lost their jobs in the month of March.
Those 106,000 job losses represent a 3% loss in employment across the clean energy industry. In 2019, the clean energy industry added more than 70,000 jobs for a 2.2% growth rate, one which outpaced the U.S. workforce as a whole. The renewable energy generation sector alone lost 16,500 jobs.
The analysis, coupled with forecasts from industry trade groups and companies, led BW Research to the conclusion that, if no actions are taken quickly to support the industry, up to 500,000 jobs could be lost — or almost 15% of the clean energy workforce.
Broken down by state, California experienced the largest number of layoffs, losing 19,900 jobs, which equates to more than 3.5% of its clean energy workforce. Michigan, Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania have, by the most conservative measures, each lost more than 5,000 clean energy jobs. Hawaii, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Rhode Island saw the largest declines in terms of percent of their respective clean energy sectors, all with around 6% employment drops.
Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, there were forecasts of huge job losses in the clean energy industry, specifically in renewable generation. in December, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), produced an analysis predicting immense harm to the U.S. solar market from the Trump administration’s imposition of tariffs on imported solar modules. The analysis claimed that solar tariffs would cost the U.S. more than 62,000 jobs, $19 billion in investment, and 10.5 GW in solar installations.
CAP Action just published an article on Medium claiming that the Trump administration’s policies against renewable energy and in favor of fossil fuels have led to the loss or suppression of around 622,000 jobs in renewable energy.
The piece also projects future job losses in renewables. This assumes there would be a 100% overlap between the jobs created by extending clean energy tax credits in December 2019 and the number of jobs created by the 2016 implementation of the Clean Power Plan.
The authors estimate that the rollback of the Clean Power Plan prevented the creation of over half of a million jobs between 2016 and 2030. The blocking of the ITC extension and slashing of clean energy funding from Presidential Budget requests prevented roughly 113,000 jobs and the blocking of renewable development on federal lands and waters cost nearly 1,500 jobs.
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We must keep in mind, that the bulk of these lost jobs are actually the hands on construction jobs. It is well documented that in the “construction industry” there will always be highs and lows in construction projects and job fluctuations as part of the construction business model. If the economy shuts down, then some solar PV manufacturing plants may shut down or even go bankrupt. Automation allows the loss of say 1,000 when the manufacturing plant shuts down. But, this effectively makes 100,000, sales, warehousing, installation jobs dwindle down to a few companies that have ‘other’ revenue resources to keep them going.
Very few in the industry manufacturing sector seem to realize, when the economy slows down, one needs savings to draw from to get through the ‘doldrums’. A lot of businesses are adapted to the “just in time” manufacturing business model. This also seems to include “just in time finances”, which may or may not pan out. Controlling overhead, and having cash on hand helps ride through economic uncertainty. An electric bill with all of its demand charges and rate peaking “programs”, creates a weight on the manufacturing facility for every product that comes off of the assembly line. Making products with solar PV, wind generation and energy storage allows the plant to at least control the cost per year on electricity that has to be purchased.
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