The solar energy sector lost 8,000 jobs in the US last year, the second consecutive year of declines, hit by uncertainty over the Trump administration's energy and trade policies and a 30% tariff on imported solar panels, according to a report released on Tuesday. But according to the Solar Foundation the future is still bright for solar. Despite the two-year dip, solar employment has grown 159%, from just over 93,000 to more than 242,000 jobs in all 50 states over the past nine years and the report concludes the long-term outlook for solar energy production is positive. Solar, which currently represents about 2.4% of overall US electricity generation, already employs twice as many workers as the coal industry and almost five times as many workers as the nuclear industry. States hit hardest by the slowdown were some of those with well-established solar industries, including California, with almost 10,000 job losses, Massachusetts, North Carolina and Arizona, while 29 states – many with less established solar penetration, including Florida, Texas and Illinois – continued to see job growth.
The disconnect between production inspired by individual actors and infrastructure that needs collective action to be approved and built is nothing new. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, settlers streamed across the Appalachian Mountains to farm the fertile Ohio River Valley, long before financiers and government officials arranged for the construction of roads and canals that would carry the grain efficiently and economically to New York City and other markets. In the late 1850s and 1860s, oil pioneers started drilling and producing oil in rural Pennsylvania before railroads and pipelines had been built. More recently, entrepreneurs and companies have rushed to build huge wind farms in Texas and the Plains--often far in advance of the construction of transmission lines to carry that power to market. The reality is that mapping out a big interstate infrastructure project takes a degree of planning and coordination between governments and multiple states that isn't necessary when you're just, say, drilling for oil or setting up wind turbines but becomes a requirement once those activities reach a critical mass.
If you are concerned about climate change, then you should take note of this: Over the last eight months, utilities from New York to Nebraska have announced plans to shutter six nuclear reactors by 2019. These closures will come on the heels of earlier ones -- five reactors have been shuttered in the last three years alone. The latest closure announcement came earlier this month when Exelon Corp., the country's largest nuclear-energy producer, said it would close three reactors at two sites in Illinois by 2018. The six targeted reactors have been safely producing about 40 terawatt-hours of zero-carbon-emissions electricity per year (one terawatt-hour equals 1 billion kilowatt-hours). These reactors' output exceeds the amount of zero-carbon electricity produced annually by every solar energy installation in the nation.
A pair of autonomous robots developed by Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute will soon be driving through miles of pipes at the U.S. Department of Energy's former uranium enrichment plant in Piketon, Ohio, to identify uranium deposits on pipe walls. The CMU robot has demonstrated it can measure radiation levels more accurately from inside the pipe than is possible with external techniques. In addition to savings in labor costs, its use significantly reduces hazards to workers who otherwise must perform external measurements by hand, garbed in protective gear and using lifts or scaffolding to reach elevated pipes. DOE officials estimate the robots could save tens of millions of dollars in completing the characterization of uranium deposits at the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Piketon, and save perhaps $50 million at a similar uranium enrichment plant in Paducah, Kentucky. "This will transform the way measurements of uranium deposits are made from now on," predicted William "Red" Whittaker, robotics professor and director of the Field Robotics Center.
The plan would make Diablo Canyon the latest nuclear plant to close in the face of cheap and abundant natural gas, falling prices for wind and solar, aging plant infrastructure, and an expensive and uncertain licensing renewal process – one that would also likely encounter serious opposition in California, where environmental advocates and some leading politicians, including the state's lieutenant governor, have urged regulators to close nuclear plants.