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.
California, New York, and various utility companies are getting serious about climate change and the environment. At the end of 2019, the California Energy Commission released two grant funding opportunities in the rollout of hydrogen fueling infrastructure and fuel-cell electric passenger cars, potentially key to stimulating renewable hydrogen production in California. Meanwhile, in New York the state is transitioning away from fossil fuels and the largest utility, Con Edison, is helping customers in the portion of Westchester County where there is a moratorium on new gas connections. The California Energy Commission noted that lithium-ion battery technology is a good short-term energy storage solution, but the technology has safety concerns (thermal runaway) and long-term performance issues (limits on the number of cycles the technology can perform in a day or over its lifetime). The new grant, GFO 19-306, will fund non-lithium ion technologies that can provide a minimum of 10 hours of energy storage.
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.
Toshiba Corp. President Satoshi Tsunakawa leaves after a press conference at the company's headquarters in Tokyo, Wednesday, March 29, 2017. Tsunakawa said the move to push Westinghouse into Chapter 11 was aimed at "shutting out risks from the overseas nuclear business." It's tough to blame Toshiba for letting Westinghouse fail. The subsidiary was an intractable mess, facing $6 billion in cost overruns on four half-built nuclear power plants in South Carolina and Georgia. Still, Tom Fanning, the CEO of Southern Company, told reporters yesterday that Toshiba had a "moral commitment" not to walk away from the unfinished reactors at the Vogtle Plant.