By Irina Slav
The renewable energy industry has not been spared by the significant job bleed that the coronavirus pandemic caused in the world’s biggest economy. Last month alone, 106,000 people from this industry lost their jobs, and more losses are on the way, a group of industry organizations has warned.
Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), the American Council on Renewable Energy, E4TheFuture and B.W. Research Partnership, analyzed jobs data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and found that besides the 106,000 people who had already lost their jobs in renewable energy, more than half a million could also be out of their jobs over the next few months, Environmental Entrepreneurs said in a news release.
The jobs lost so far, E2 said, were equal to the number of jobs added in the renewable energy industry over the whole of last year. The total at the end of 2019 stood at close to 3.4 million jobs. Now, more than 15 percent of these jobs are at risk of perishing in the coronavirus crisis unless the government steps in to help.
“To stem job losses, we ask Congress to extend the time-sensitive deadlines faced by renewable projects seeking to qualify for critical tax incentives, and to provide temporary refundability for renewable tax credits that are increasingly difficult to monetize,” said the president and chief executive of the American Council on Renewable Energy, Gregory Wetstone, commenting on the findings of the data analysis.
The renewable energy industry, in other words, has become one more plaintiff at the door of the federal government, along with virtually every other industry in the country. And job losses could indeed be devastating: according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, the solar power industry alone could shed half of its 250,000 jobs over the next few months unless urgent measures put into practice.
The outlook for the industry is not good, just as it is not good for any other industry. Wood Mackenzie earlier this month warned that the crisis could cause substantial delays in utility-scale solar energy projects.
“The worst-case scenario, which sees every step of the supply chain and project development come to a complete halt for several weeks, could see upwards of 5 GWdc of U.S. utility-scale market pushed back to the second half of this year and perhaps into 2021,” one of the authors of the report, Ravi Manghani, said.
Energy storage—also considered part of the renewable energy industry as it is an indispensable part of it—could also see setbacks, with Wood Mac analysts projecting a 19-percent decline in new deployments this year. This translates into 3 GWh less in new energy storage. The silver lining is that the total, at 12.6 GWh, would still be a record amount of new energy storage.
And yet, supply chain disruptions aside, the coronavirus outbreak is affecting demand for electricity across the country. As a result, demand for new capacity has shrunk. It’s the fundamentals of the energy market at work.
The Energy Information Administration expects total U.S. electricity generation to decline by 3 percent this year, and it has also revised down its forecast for new solar and wind generation capacity by 10 percent and 5 percent, respectively. However, there is good news: the EIA says renewables will mark the biggest increase in output among all sources of electricity. What’s more, the authority said in its latest Short-Term Energy Outlook that wind and solar will be the fastest-growing source of electricity generation this year, despite—or maybe because of—the crisis, as the oil and gas industry struggles to stay afloat amid plunging prices.
No industry will be spared: this is the only conclusion one can draw from the current situation. There may be federal help for some, but there cannot be help for everyone, unfortunately. This may be a good time to think about the possibility of renewable energy advancing beyond its heavy reliance on government incentives for its survival.