The 2017 National Solar Jobs Census released by the Solar Foundation on Wednesday reveals that the solar industry is shrinking now, following years of steady growth. Industry jobs declined for the first time since the foundation began tracking such data in 2010.
The number of solar jobs in the U.S. decreased by almost 10,000 jobs to 250,271 total. The 3.8 percent reduction is the first decline since the foundation began the survey in 2010.
Between 2010 and 2016, the industry had nearly tripled in size, reaching 260,077 workers in 2016.
The report points to several components in the decline, such as economic factors at the state level. But the most notable involved the outcome of a court case filed last year:
[T]he report cites the uncertainty brought about by the Section 201 trade case filed by two solar companies in April 2017. Those two companies invoked a seldom-used trade law, claiming that cheap prices afforded by competitors using overseas solar manufacturers had damaged their businesses.
Industry watchers had suspected that the case's outcome would lead to the Trump administration's applying tariffs on imported panels. Indeed, this past January, the White House announced 30 percent tariffs on solar panels imported from countries including China, Malaysia, and South Korea. Eighty percent of solar panels installed in the U.S. are manufactured abroad.
The vast majority of solar companies surveyed by the foundation last year indicted trade restrictions would have a significant negative impact, with nearly three quarters saying they had experienced negative effects even before the ruling came down or tariffs implemented.
"If you look back historically, the biggest driver of the solar industry has been declining prices," says Ed Gilliland, senior director of the Solar Foundation and the report's author. "If the next year or two see an increase in prices, then that could slow down some of the growth of solar. So, clearly, that is a concern moving forward."