US solar jobs down for second year as Trump tariffs weigh
Technician checking solar panels on roof (Shutterstock)

The number of jobs in the U.S. solar industry dropped by 3.2 percent in 2018, a second year of losses, as the Trump administration’s tariffs on foreign panels and state-level policy changes hit demand for installations, according to an industry report released on Tuesday.

The job losses reflect how changing trade and environmental policies can alter the trajectory of an industry that was among the fastest-growing segments of the U.S. energy industry.

The number of solar energy workers fell by 8,000 to 242,000 in 2018, according to the Solar Jobs Census, released annually by the non-profit research firm The Solar Foundation, following a loss of 10,000 jobs in 2017. But jobs are expected to rise next year, the report said.

In early 2018, President Donald Trump imposed 30 percent tariffs on imported solar panels to boost domestic manufacturing, the opening salvo in what has become a wide-ranging trade war. The move led developers to cancel or freeze billions of dollars of investments in large-installation projects because most of the solar panels used in the United States are made abroad.

On the manufacturing side, there is little evidence so far of a boost. Jobs in the industry’s manufacturing sector - a small slice of the overall industry - fell 8 percent in 2018, according to the report.

Policies of U.S. states are also critical to solar growth, and changes in incentives and rates for projects in large markets led to job losses there, according to the report.

In California, utility procurement slowed because power companies have fulfilled near-term renewable energy procurement requirements. The state’s commercial market also slowed due to a shift to rates that are less favorable to solar. In Massachusetts, the commercial market stalled ahead of the introduction of a new incentive scheme at the end of the year.

The Solar Foundation said it expects a rebound in jobs of 7 percent next year, however, due to recent declines in solar panel prices that have made them more affordable.

China last year slashed subsidies for solar installations, unleashing a flood of low-cost Chinese-made panels onto the international market and pushing prices below what they were before the tariffs were imposed.

Installation will receive the biggest bump, more than 9 percent, the report said, while manufacturing will rise 4 percent, the report said.

JinkoSolar Holding Co Ltd, Hanwha Q CELLS, and some others are opening U.S. factories to avoid U.S. tariffs.

Reporting by Nichola Groom; Editing by Leslie Adler