The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the US solar industry, and the data of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) indicates that there have been 65K job losses in the US from the beginning of the year until now, for which the job vacancy that grew over the past 5 years has gone down the drain.
As pointed out by the data of SEIA, being one of the fastest developed industry, the solar industry had 250K employees in the beginning of 2020, and is left with 188K now, where the job vacancy for the past 5 years has been wiped clean. Without the occurrence of this pandemic, the number of employees in the solar industry during June can arrive at 300K. Although these job opportunities are expected to gradually recover once the pandemic has been mitigated, the current vanishing speed of the US solar industry is way faster than the deterioration pace of the economy.
Residential and commercial solar have sustained severe impact. As multiple states in the US have implemented the stay-at-home order, the traditional sales model of visiting client’s homes is no longer applicable, and installations at homes or companies are not possible even if orders are received. Compared to large-scale solar projects, residential and commercial solar require more manpower per GW. Two residential solar companies have been shut down, and another company Sungevity had laid off nearly 400 employees. It is during times like these where the tenacity and scale of a company is truly tested, and Sunrun, SunPower, and Tesla have been adjusting well to the pandemic in contrast to smaller enterprises.
Josh Lutton, President of Illinois solar installation company Certasun, commented that the stay-at-home order implemented in Illinois since March 20th has resulted in a 3-week shutdown of the company during the busiest time, with zero revenue during the 3 weeks. According to the data of BW Research Partnership, nearly 600K of renewable energy workers applied for unemployment benefit between March and April; 96K of them used to work in wind and solar sectors, and 2/3 were workers from the solar industry.
Energy consultancy group Wood Mackenzie anticipates that the status of the US solar industry is not optimistic in 2020, and that the industry will sustain a 15% reduction in the installed capacity for public business, whereas the residential solar sector will experience an ever worse outcome, with a 50% reduction in the installed capacity of commercial and industrial solar power. Ravi Manghani, head of solar research at Wood Mackenzie, commented that the progress for residential solar business was suspended as soon as the stay-at-home order was implemented during the initial break out of the pandemic.
The slight relaxation on the restriction today has facilitated the re-operation of online and virtual sales channels, and recovered affected demand, though not for installation personnel. As pointed out by Manghani, it all really depends on whether a house owner is willing to open the front door for these personnel to come in and install electronics such as solar panels. The recovery of the solar industry in the future will be dependent on the pandemic status and the activeness of the economy. Solar workers will be able to return to the work place if the demand for solar power returns in the third quarter of 2020, otherwise these positions will be gone forever.
(Cover photo source: Flickr/Intel Free Press CC BY 2.0)