America’s ‘clean energy’ workforce projected to fall by 15% in months ahead

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Over 106,000 people working in the U.S. “clean energy” sector lost their jobs in March as the industry struggled to soften the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, it was claimed Wednesday.  

The analysis of Department of Labor data, released by Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), the American Council on Renewable Energy, E4TheFuture and BW Research Partnership, paints a challenging picture for the industry. For the purposes of the analysis, the term “clean energy” encompasses a range of areas including: renewables such as solar and wind; energy storage; energy efficiency; and “clean fuels.”   

It shows that, last month, 106,472 people working in clean energy roles filed for unemployment benefits. Looking further ahead, the analysis projects that over 500,000 people working in clean energy — 15% of the sector’s workforce — will lose their jobs in the following months unless “quick and substantive action” is taken by both the administration of President Donald Trump and Congress.

“The economic fallout from COVID-19 is historic in both size and speed,” Phil Jordan, vice president and principal at BW Research Partnership, said in a statement issued alongside the analysis.

Jordan explained that activities, from the manufacture of electric vehicles to the installation of solar panels, were being impacted. “And the data pretty clearly indicate that this is just the beginning,” he added.

Wednesday’s figures are a heavy blow for an industry that added over 70,000 jobs in 2019. The clean energy workforce in the U.S. grew to almost 3.4 million people at the end of last year, according to E2’s Clean Jobs America 2020 report, which was also released on Wednesday. 

This year looks set to pose a number of challenges for the renewables sector, many of them connected to the coronavirus pandemic, which has caused issues with supply chains and forced some factories to shut.

In a blog post toward the end of March, Abigail Ross-Hopper, the president and CEO of the U.S.-based Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), wrote that the solar industry was “at risk.”

Citing a survey carried out with the SEIA’s member companies, Ross-Hopper said data showed that “solar companies and workers are losing business and being put out of work by COVID-19.”

Last week, research and consultancy firm Wood Mackenzie said global solar installations for 2020 had been revised down from 129.5 gigawatts (GW) to 106.4 GW, which represents an 18% drop compared to pre-coronavirus levels.

In the wind energy sector, last week also saw Danish wind turbine manufacturer Vestas suspend guidance for 2020, noting that the global spread of Covid-19 and national measures taken to contain it had caused disruptions to installations, manufacturing and its supply chain.

“The situation changes daily and my colleagues’ ability to adapt fast and follow our extensive safety measures have been key to keeping performance in the first quarter in line with expectations,” Henrik Andersen, Vestas’ group president and CEO, said in the statement.

“Unfortunately, the pandemic continues to spread and with no clear prognosis on when key wind markets such as the USA, Brazil and India will recover, we are suspending our guidance due to the poor visibility for the remainder of the year.”