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Survey Findings: Things are bad and getting worse

Thursday, Mar 26 2020

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By
Abigail Ross Hopper
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As the economic crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic evolves, one thing has become very clear – the solar industry is at risk. A survey of our member companies conducted over the past ten days provides further proof points to this story: the data shows that solar companies and workers are losing business and being put out of work by COVID-19.

Coronavirus is first and foremost a public health crisis and we do not know when that will be resolved. It’s also true that there are major impacts throughout the U.S. economy, including the solar energy economy, which employed 250,000 Americans last year.

Congress has taken critical steps with their first three bills to address COVID-19, including economy-wide recovery measures that will help support solar businesses and solar families. Our first priority is to continue to protect our workers and their families. Our next priority is creating a policy environment that gives the solar industry the tools it needs to create long-term growth. With the right policies, solar can be a major contributor to economic recovery. Before the pandemic hit, the solar industry was poised to set a record for deployment in 2020 and solar installer was the fastest growing job category.

As of the close of our first survey on Sunday, 22% of respondents were making workforce reduction plans. These numbers are already looking like the low end: of the first 80 responses to our second survey, 40% of respondents report staffing reductions, representing a 17% reduction in their reported workforce.

More than 75% of solar companies have fewer than 50 employees. These small businesses represent the backbone of the American economy, and the concerns they’ve voiced to us are troublesome. The survey respondents were very concerned or moderately concerned about construction delays (86%), supply chain and equipment delays (84%), permitting delays (81%) and customer acquisition (81%). Any one of these issues could be a huge problem on its own, but together they compound. It’s notable that companies became significantly more concerned in all areas as the survey period of 3/13-3/22 went on. The chart below tells a clear story: things are bad and getting worse.

Again, it’s important to note the impacts are pervasive in our society. According to a national survey by Navigator, the economic impact is not only being felt nationally, but personally. A majority (60%) of Americans are now uneasy about their personal financial situation, up 13 points from earlier in March (47%).

  • Forty-one percent (41%) of Americans say someone they know personally has lost their job due to the pandemic;
  • Six-in-ten (61%) say they know someone who has lost hours at work as a result of the crisis.

Here are just a few of the stories our companies have told us in surveys, emails and press reports:

  • Cancellation rates (19%) and job postponement rates (53%) for residential solar systems are now extremely high. This is leading to jobless solar installers, which was previously America's fastest growing profession.  
  • Retail solar sales in big box stores are being curtailed or eliminated, following the termination of door to door sales.
  • One company today told us they have already seen a 60% drop in sales.
  • Companies are reporting complete work stoppage and sales lost for six months to a year.
  • One company with 350 employees completely shut down this week.
  • Orders for shipments are being cancelled left and right, hurting manufacturers. Companies are reporting 90- to 130-day delays for products.
  • In Pennsylvania, a company laid off all of their field staff and is concerned about their ability to re-mobilize after the crisis subsides, underscoring the need for immediate relief for longer-term economic stimulus measures to be effective.
  • Financing is freezing for some. More than 63% of respondents are concerned that they can’t get access to tax equity.

All of these data points tell us a clear story: the solar industry needs policies to protect and support workers as a result of this awful virus. Nothing less than the future of our clean energy economy is at stake. We are working with Congress to find solutions to this health and economic crisis and we will keep you posted on our findings as we fight through this difficult time in America’s history.

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