Donald Trump’s decision to impose tariffs on solar panels and washing machines on January 23 was roundly criticized on many grounds – most frequently, the impact on jobs in the solar industry, as stated in the New York Times Editorial on January 23 ,“Mr. Trump’s Tariffs will not bring back manufacturing jobs”. The Times supported their opinion with several articles, including “Trump’s Solar Tariffs are clouding the industry’s future” (Jan. 23) , which states: “Far more workers are employed in areas that underpin the use of solar technology, such as making steel racks that angle the panels toward the sun. And the bulk of workers in the solar industry install and maintain the projects, a process that is labor-intensive and hard to automate.” The Solar Energy Industries Association in the U.S. response is here, and their Fact Sheet (Feb. 2) explains the terms and impact of the decision. The Solar Foundation released its 8th annual Jobs Census on February 7, revealing the first-ever year of decline in the number of jobs, but still a census of over 250,000 workers. For a thorough overview, see the Fact Checker article by the Washington Post, “Trump says solar tariff will create ‘a lot of jobs.’ But it could wipe out many more” (Jan. 29).
Three Canadian solar companies immediately filed a suit against the tariffs in the U.S. Court of International Trade, arguing that they violate NAFTA. The EU, China, South Korea, and Taiwan have also filed complaints at the World Trade Organization. For a deeper look at the possible implications for other countries, including Canada, consider the complexity of global trade: From an excellent overview in The Energy Mix: “Trump Solar Tariff may be opening salvo in trade war”: “Although China appeared to be Trump’s intended target, the tariff on solar cells and panels will mostly hit workers in other countries. Thanks to dispersed supply chains—and partly in response to previous U.S. tariffs—solar photovoltaic manufacturing is a global industry. Malaysia, South Korea, and Vietnam all hold a larger share of the U.S. market than China does directly. And all are entitled to seek remedies under various trade agreements.” The Energy Mix item refers to “U.S. tariffs aimed at China and South Korea hit targets worldwide” in the New York Times (Jan. 23), which adds: “Suniva, one of the American solar companies that had sought the tariffs, filed for bankruptcy protection last year, citing the effects of Chinese imports. But the majority owner of Suniva is itself Chinese, and the company’s American bankruptcy trustee supported the trade litigation over the objections of the Chinese owners.” From Reuters, “Why the US decision on solar panels could hit Europe and Asia hard” states that Goldman Sachs estimated that the tariffs implied “a 3-7 percent cost increase for utility-scale and residential solar costs, respectively …. Two key exclusions with respect to technology and certain countries (Canada/Singapore, among others) were included as part of the (initial) recommendation.” Canadian Solar , founded in Canada but a multinational traded on NASDAQ, is one the world’s biggest panel manufacturers.
For an overview of the current state of the U.S. renewable energy markets and labour force, including solar, see In Demand: Clean Energy, Sustainability and the new American Workforce (Jan. 2018) , co-authored by Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and Meister Consultants Group. Highlights: there are 4 million clean energy jobs in the U.S., with wind and solar energy jobs outnumbering coal and gas jobs in 30 states. Quoting the IRENA Renewable Energy and Jobs Annual Review for 2017 , the In Demand report states that: “The solar industry grew 24.5 percent to employ 260,000 workers, adding jobs at nearly 17 times the rate of the overall economy in 2016.” The coal industry employs 160,000 workers in the U.S. In Demand compiles statistics from the U.S. Department of Energy, International Energy Agency, International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and many others, about current and projected clean energy markets and employment in the U.S.: renewable energy, energy efficiency, alternative vehicles, and energy storage and advanced grid sectors.