Parts of the Solar Industry Thrive While Others Falter
While some businesses within the solar industry are prospering, others are closing down as the political climate and social attitude towards solar has worsened so far in 2017.
Solar panels are more affordable than ever, and expected to become even more cost-effective as technological efficiencies continue to advance. But that hasn’t stopped several high-profile solar companies from going under, costing American workers hundreds of jobs. The election of Donald Trump to the presidency and the potential rollback on subsidies from the federal government is seen as a major obstacle moving forward in the renewables industry at large, but especially with solar.
According to a Renewable Energy Agency report, approximately 260,000 workers are now employed within the solar sector, which accounts for an increase of 24% since 2015. Solar employment has in fact increased over 15 times faster than the total U.S. economy in 2015.
But such numbers only increase the risk to these workers as the industry, still seen as a cutting-edge technology and yet to be adopted by large swaths of the public, has been hit by tough times.
Suniva was one of the first companies to file for bankruptcy this year, back at the beginning of the new year. SolarWorld, one of the largest solar panel producers in the world, also filed for bankruptcy in May.
While several other companies have faced financial pressures in the solar industry of late, Suniva and SolarWorld are two unique cases. SolarWorld due to its size and the potential impact on American workers (it employs 800 workers in Oregon), and Suniva due to its petition to establish tariffs in order to protect the solar industry, which is facing threats from outside producers. Countries like China have been able to produce solar panels at a cheaper cost, beating out competitors in Europe and the U.S. who often rely on government subsidies to help fuel the business.
The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) is against the Suniva petition, arguing that increasing tariffs would only end up hurting American workers.
“The International Trade Commission’s decision to consider Suniva’s petition for a lifeline could be bad news for hundreds of thousands of American workers in the solar industry and may jeopardize billions of dollars in investment in communities across the country. Setting high price floors and exorbitant tariffs is a blunt instrument that would cripple one of the brightest spots in America’s economy,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, President and CEO of SEIA, in a statement. (Source: Ibid.)
“What’s happening in the US solar industry?” Business Review USA, May 29, 2017.