Solar Jobs Down in California, Nevada

Feb 9, 2018

Credit BLACK ROCK SOLAR, FLICKR, HTTPS://CREATIVECOMMONS.ORG/LICENSES/BY/2.0/

Over the past year, the solar industry lost nearly 15,000 jobs in California and Nevada. That's according to the latest annual report produced by the Solar Foundation -- a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocate for the nation's solar industry.

Our reporter, Paul Boger, spoke to the organization's senior director Ed Gilliland about the report, and how the industry is fairing in Nevada and California.  

You all just released an annual report looking at growth in the solar industry. What were the findings of the study?

Sure, so we've been doing this report ever since 2010, and in 2017 for the first time, we actually had a decrease in solar jobs year-over-year. So we dropped from 260000 jobs to just over 250000 jobs, about a four percent decrease in jobs.

What about Nevada and California, specifically? Do you have those numbers?

California and Nevada both experienced job losses. California was down they lost 14 percent, and Nevada was down about 22 percent. So, California lost about 130,00 jobs and Nevada was about 1,700-1,800 jobs.

That's a pretty significant loss statewide.

Sure, we have several factors. One is that nationally, 2017 followed on the record year of 2016. So, in 2016 we experienced explosive growth. The total amount of installed solar doubled and then there was also the uncertainty generated by pending tariffs on imported solar cells and modules.

Since you brought it up I'm curious, how does President Trump's decision to increase tariffs on solar Imports affect the solar industry here in what is supposed to be the sunniest state in the Union?

Of course, it remains to be seen, there are still some details to be worked out, but declining prices has largely driven traditionally going back to 2010 the solar industry. So, it's very likely that tariffs will likely increase prices and to that extent, it could decrease demand, decrease solar jobs. However, a lot of the success going forward for any given state is going to be more based on its own policies then its own economics.

It's interesting that you bring up state policies. In late 2015, regulators gutted net-metering rules, those have since been reinstated, but could that have, in part, explained the decline in jobs?

Yes, the survey was administered going from the fall of 2016 through mid-year 2017. Nevada saw a fairly big decrease in jobs and even though the net metering was reinstated mid-year it's probably not enough time for the jobs to pick back up so that they exceed last year.

So what do states and municipalities need to do to bolster the solar industry? What do they need to do to really put it back on the rise again?

Certainly, one of the first things to do is set your goals and set aggressive renewable portfolio standards. In the case of California and New York, they've committed to 50% renewable energy by 2030. So, aggressive goals can lead to more aggressive policies.

Infographic created by the Solar Foundation for the National Solar Jobs Census 2017.

Infographic created by the Solar Foundation for the National Solar Jobs Census 2017.