The Coronavirus Is Taking A Toll On The Renewable Energy Sector

May 19, 2020 by Gaspard Le Dem

The natural world has gotten a boost from the coronavirus pandemic. 

With fewer cars on the roads and planes in the sky, the world has benefited from clearer skies and an unprecedented decline in carbon emissions. 

Daily CO2 emissions decreased by 17% between January and early April compared to average 2019 levels, according to new research by Nature Climate Change.

But the renewable energy sector hasn’t been so lucky. Clean energy — from electric vehicles to wind and solar power — has taken a hit during the crisis. 

According to an analysis of U.S. Department of Labor data by BW Research, nearly 600,000 workers in clean energy jobs filed for unemployment benefits in April and March — a 17% drop in clean energy employment.

The layoffs have impacted the industry across many occupations, from the energy efficiency sector to renewable power generation and clean vehicle manufacturing.

California — where many of the nation’s clean energy jobs are located — has seen the largest number of layoffs, losing 77,900 jobs or 15% of its clean energy workforce, according to BW Research.

Fearing COVID-19 outbreaks in the workplace, manufacturing plants that produce everything from electric vehicles to wind turbine parts have been forced to close. 

Last month, a wind power facility in Grand Forks, North Dakota was shut down after eight workers tested positive for coronavirus. In California, Tesla was forced to suspend production at its Flagship Fremont factory for weeks after a contentious back-and-forth with local authorities who had imposed a health order.

Global electric vehicle sales are expected to drop 43% to 1.3 million in 2020, according to a report by Wood Mackenzie, a market research and consulting company. “The uncertainty and fear created by the outbreak has made consumers less inclined to adopt a new technology,” said Ram Chandrasekaran, an analyst for the firm. 

The economic impact of the pandemic has also forced renewable companies to put major projects on hold as financing streams dry up. In Texas, Swinerton Renewable Energy had to delay building a $109 million solar farm that was expected to generate 400 construction jobs and power around 25,000 homes. 

Smaller companies have also experienced a slowdown in business during the pandemic. Demand for residential solar panel installations has plummeted as cities and counties issue shelter-in-place orders. 

Residential solar company Sungevity announced that it would lay off close to 400 employees in March, citing “business conditions and the COVID-19 outbreak.” In April, the Solar Energy Industry Association estimated that the U.S. solar industry could lose up to half of its 250,000-strong workforce. 

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