US solar industry cut 65,000 workers due to Covid-19, erasing five years of solar job growth

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At the end of 2019, the solar industry employed 250,000 Americans. The industry was projected to grow to 302,000 workers by June 2020, but the pandemic has caused the solar workforce to shrink to 188,000, a 38% decrease.

New research from the solar trade organization SEIA shows all 50 states with solar jobs losses, with 36 states suffering job losses above 30%. Seven states and Washington, DC — including large solar states like New York and New Jersey— have seen solar job losses exceed 60%.

The drop coincides with a 37% decrease in expected Q2 solar installations from pre-Covid forecasts, as the U.S. is now on track to install 3 GW of new solar capacity in Q2 2020.

State data can be found here. More gruesome details:

  • The U.S. solar industry cut 65,000 workers due to Covid-19, sending the solar workforce back to 2014 numbers.
  • There will be 114,000 fewer solar jobs in June than there would be without the pandemic.
  • 22 states will employ at least 1,000 fewer solar workers in June as a result of Covid-19.
  • Deployment losses in Q2 will exceed 1,700 megawatts.

“Thousands of solar workers are being laid off each week, but with swift action from Congress, we know that solar can be a crucial part of our economic recovery,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, CEO of SEIA. “With a few simple changes, Congress has an opportunity to save solar jobs, rebuild our economy and advance clean energy even as policy makers address this very real public health crisis.”

Direct cash payments?

As pv magazine has reported, solar developers, including First Solar, believe that a direct cash payments solution could keep solar projects on track and help developers monetize the ITC in the event that tax equity financing dries up.

If Covid-19 adversely impacts banks’ profitability, a legislative solution that lets solar developers receive direct cash payments instead of investment tax credits could alleviate the structural constraints likely to arise in the tax equity market.

“We support a modification to existing legislation that would inject liquidity into the financial markets during this time of economic uncertainty,” a First Solar spokesman said. For the solar industry, a direct cash payments solution would ensure that the development of vital large-scale solar projects continues, he added.

In its Q1 earnings call last week, First Solar said that it believes that direct cash payments could also help the industry support high-quality solar construction jobs, which could be in jeopardy if the tax equity market is disrupted.