Why Solar Needs a “Joe the Installer”
You may remember Sam Wurzelbacher…aka “Joe the Plumber.” In 2008, Sam confronted then-presidential hopeful Barack Obama in Ohio to contest the central campaign issue of taxes. During that election, “Joe the Plumber” became a representative for working class Americans who shoulder the nation’s gritty entrepreneurial spirit and yet were most often overlooked or undervalued in political strategery. Today, as the nation braces for the International Trade Commission’s (ITC) decision on potential trade remedies for imported solar cells and modules, the solar industry might well benefit from a similar champion.
It is unclear how far down the U.S. supply chain the ITC choses (or dares) to venture in determining the consequences of any and all potential trade remedies. How much of “the industry” will they deem inclusive and important? Will they, could they, view their decisions through the ground-level eyes of the industry’s economic engine, i.e. “Joe the Installer”?
Those opposing tariffs or other remedies, which is most of the solar industry, argue that of the more than 260,000 American jobs in solar, only a small percentage are in manufacturing, the primary beneficiaries of a trade action. The vast majority are jobs in the downstream and supporting sectors of the supply chain, like project developers, EPCs, electrical and civic engineers, commercial and residential installers, service providers, and investors. A narrowly viewed trade remedy could result in the immediate loss of a third of these jobs.
Every day I work to help companies communicate with their customers and potential customers, sell more product, and get more megawatts of clean energy into the ground. Putting the brakes on solar’s momentum now will certainly impact my company and most of those we work with.
But despite being a bright spot in the U.S. economy, these are just jobs…without faces or names or stories. How can we expect a four-person committee to look beyond the mechanical and, potentially, ideological? The better question is, how can we help them to?
It will certainly be a net loss to the U.S. economy if higher panel prices will benefit domestic module producers less than the overall harm caused to the greater solar industry. And from my perspective, “Joe the Installer” is the greater solar industry.
Tim Braun is principal of b2,inc., a communications company serving renewable energy and sustainable brands.