The coronavirus pandemic is taking a toll on the US economy, with 36 million people having asked for unemployment aid so far. Many sectors have been severely hit, but renewable energy jobs are some of the worst affected.
More than half a million clean energy jobs have been lost in March and April, a new report showed, reversing years of growth in an industry that has helped reduce damaging air pollution and the emissions responsible for climate change.
Clean energy employment has fallen by 17% since the coronavirus brought normal life to a screeching halt, according to unemployment data analyzed by BW Research and published by advocacy group Environmental Entrepreneurs.
Clean energy job losses in April were far greater than March, when 147,139 claims were made. Total claims for March and April amount to 594,347. For the purposes of the analysis, the term “clean energy” encompassed energy efficiency; renewables; grid and storage; and “clean” vehicles and fuels.
The numbers are especially grim in California, where 105,000 clean energy workers have lost their jobs, more than any other state. Los Angeles County lost nearly 15,000 clean energy jobs in April alone, 2 ½ times as many as any other U.S. county.
“These are higher numbers than expected, and we were expecting bad numbers,” Greg Wetstone, president of the American Council on Renewable Energy, a trade group, said in a statement. “It’s painful to see three years of growth essentially wiped out in a single month.”
Before the epidemic, nearly 3.4 million Americans worked in clean energy — three times the workforce of the U.S. fossil fuel industry. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projected last year that the country’s two fastest-growing jobs over the next decade would be solar panel installer and wind turbine technician.
The report said that the federal government has offered little support for renewable energy so far. In a tweet last month, President Trump said that his administration would “never let the great U.S. Oil & Gas Industry down” and that he had instructed top officials “to formulate a plan which will make funds available” to the sector.
Looking ahead, the report forecasts more job losses unless the U.S. administration and Congress “take quick and substantive action to support the clean energy industry and its workers.” If no action is taken, it’s projected that 850,000 people in the sector will have filed for unemployment by June 30.
Around the world, firms working in sectors such as renewable energy are having to adapt to the new challenges posed by Covid-19. Last week, Nordex became the latest wind turbine manufacturer to withdraw guidance for the 2020 financial year, while in April Vestas suspended guidance for this year.
“Unprecedented economic impacts of COVID-19 are beyond daunting, for the whole clean energy industry — though the industry is nevertheless setting its sights on recovery and adapting to seek possible solutions,” Steve Cowell, President, E4TheFuture said in a statement.
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