The Solar Safety Net

The energy transition can (and should) help speed Virginia’s economic recovery after COVID-19.

It’s understandable to be concerned about what things look like on the other side of this crisis. One thing about a Black Swan Event is there’s no way to know how the pieces will fall back into place, whatever into place looks like anymore. One thing, however, seems like a safe bet. With Homo Sapien being the most adaptable species on the planet (which some would argue is its sole evolutionary advantage), the other side of this will appear, and we, the somewhat dwindled and likely humbled human race, will reckon with the aftermath and the way forward.


Although we're all inclined to train our attention on the here and now, we can’t let ourselves lose sight of the landscape we know will remain after this moment is behind us. Unforeseen realities will no doubt present themselves with crass indifference to the forecasts of the most reliable models or our habituated sense of what should be, but with as many amorphous shapes as lay within this thickening tarp of fog, we need to remain mindful of what we know is still looming on the other side.

New Delhi, India, November 2019 on left, March 2020 on right. CNN, Getty Images

THE GLOBE WILL STILL BE WARMING at a rate largely unchanged since before the lockdown.

Although a brief respite to many who suffer from conditions made acute by high levels of airborne irritants is welcome (and likely to provide valuable proof-points of pollution's impact on public health), the fundamental drivers of climate change will be negligibly impacted by this crisis.


There are many making a well-articulated case for the perils of benching climate change action when we finally reach Infrastructure Week, which, if effectively executed, would prove a similarly powerful economic catalyst to FDR’s 1935 Works Progress Administration.


It’s been called a do-or-die moment for the climate crisis, which doesn’t sound like hyperbole at the moment. If the degree to which most countries are using debt to stave off depression-level economic collapse effectively decimates future public-sector will to invest in climate crisis intervention, that’s not good. At all. If we can’t manage to make this a societal priority now, our future selves (and our children’s children) will wish we’d tried much harder.

SOLAR POWER’S GROWTH PHASE will continue.

The economic effects of coronavirus are likely to resemble the metal halide lights on a high school football stadium. They go out instantly but take a little while to come back to full power. We undoubtedly have and will continue to see short term downside fallout of coronavirus on the sector, heavier in some segments than others.


Market contraction is a very real possibility, especially without the buttressing effect of things like renewables-aimed federal stimulus or no-cost measures such as direct pay to help smaller firms withstand the withering effects of the hobbled tax equity market. Yet continued trends in market dynamics, the ongoing emphasis being placed on RPS and the acceleration of technological advancement will keep solar on a positive growth trajectory into the 2040s and beyond.

SKILLED WORKFORCE NEEDS WILL REMAIN well into the future.

Although we are seeing troubling and not insubstantial job losses in the solar industry as a direct result of the crisis, it’s important to consider these figures in context. Unlike in the fossil fuel industry, solar has seen consistent levels of job creation over the past decade.


SHINE’s analysis of solar job growth in Virginia’s utility-scale solar segment shows that, even when factoring in the impact of coronavirus, the more than 12 GW of solar power generation in the state’s development pipeline will create over 24,000 new jobs for Virginians between now and 2027, with $900 Million in direct wages that could be landing in many of the state’s most underserved regions. These are not paltry figures, especially considering the likely contraction in many industries as we travel further down the road past COVID-19.


This moment is an affirmation of SHINE's commitment to providing vital job opportunities to those Virginians who will most benefit from them as well as helping facilitate the clean energy transformation, especially in light of the current crisis. Coronavirus may have tripped the breaker to the stadium lights, but they’ll come back to full power soon, and when they do, we’ve got a game to win.




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