In 2016, solar energy in the United States was responsible for 43 percent of the electric power sector, while the entire fossil fuel industry accounted for only 22 percent. Solar energy seemed to be on the brink of revolutionizing the U.S. energy sector, according to Forbes.
Yet, solar energy has stalled in the past two years. In 2017, there was a reported 10,000 jobs lost in the industry; another 8,000 jobs were lost in 2018. The largest contributing factor to the decline in solar energy jobs was Trump’s solar panel tariffs. At the start of his trade war with China, Trump chose to add a 30 percent tariff on foreign-produced solar panels, which negatively affected the U.S. market because it relied heavily on cheap imports.
Although the Solar Foundation has called the last two years “challenging,” it is confident that the industry will bounce back in 2019. They explain, “Based on the Census survey, the solar industry expects a jobs turnaround with 7 percent growth in 2019.” The Foundation cautions that the predictions could be wrong, but it believes that “there is considerable evidence that the outlook for the solar industry is improving, and that solar employment will resume a growth path in 2019 and beyond.”
Industry leaders such as the Solar Energy Industry Association’s President and CEO Abigail Hopper said there could be potential market damage. “The current solar market, including its production and trade patterns, was both foreseeable and predicted by experts across the globe. What's also been predicted are the inevitable job losses in the US and economic harm if tariffs are imposed on one of the fastest-growing industries in America. We urge the president to put America first and say no to solar tariffs."
Before the tariffs were applied, solar panel imports exploded, but the uncertainty created by the tariffs led to developers canceling billions of dollars of investments and projects. The tariffs have had a large impact on the sector since then.
The Solar Foundation stated: "The urgent challenge of climate change means the progress we have seen to date is not nearly enough. Solar energy will need to develop and expand even faster in order to reduce carbon emissions to sustainable levels. If this can be achieved, a host of additional benefits will follow, including new solar job growth."