Clean Energy Driving Job Growth

Eileen V. Quigley
August 22, 2018

These are dynamic times for the clean energy job sector, despite the Trump Administration’s best efforts to stymie clean energy in the United States by propping up the coal industry, derailing clean cars, and halting clean power. So, let’s take a look at clean energy job data released in recent months to see how misguided the Trump Administration's fossil fuel energy focus is.

Energy Efficiency Jobs Top the List

The 2018 U.S. Energy and Employment Report (USEER)* released in May 2018 found that clean energy—particularly energy efficiency—is producing the most energy sector jobs. The 2018 USEER analyzes four sectors of the U.S. economy to arrive at its energy job data: Electric Power Generation and Fuels; Transmission, Distribution, and Storage; Energy Efficiency; and Motor Vehicles. The 2018 USEER clean energy job highlights are as follows:

  • Energy efficiency employers continue to lead among clean energy job creators, adding a net 67,000 new jobs nationally and producing the highest number of new jobs (2.25 million) within the four sectors the USEER tracks, or 50% of the total new energy jobs in 2017.  
  • Natural gas electric generation jobs continued to grow, adding over 19,000 new jobs, as natural gas continued its climb as the number one fuel for electricity generation in the U.S.  
  • Jobs in the combined heat and power industry, which represents 8.5% of U.S, generation, doubled in 2017.  
  • The wind industry increased its workforce by 6%, adding 107,000 jobs; the solar industry employed 350,000 individuals in 2017. This represents a reduction of 24,000 jobs in the solar industry in 2017—the first net job loss since solar jobs were first collated in 2010.  
  • The bio-energy sector experienced the fastest growth, increasing its employment by 55% to over 4,000 workers in 2017.  
  • Battery storage added almost 6,000 new jobs for a 12% growth rate in 2017.  
  • 70% of all surveyed employers reported difficulty hiring qualified workers over the last 12 months; 26% noted it was very difficult.

At an event discussing the 2018 USEER with former Energy Secretary Ernest J. Moniz, Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) stated, "Our nation is embarking on one of the greatest economic opportunities, and that is a clean, efficient, energy economy."

Noting that the energy industry faced a shortage in trained workers, Cantwell called for the United States to continue to lead in clean energy technologies and to invest in the training that will produce a workforce that will help the nation advance in clean energy. Senator Cantwell introduced S. 2449-21st Century Energy Workforce Act of 2018 to develop a strategy to support the creation of a skilled energy workforce.

Solar Power Dominates Job Generation in Electric Power Sector

The 2018 USEER figure below shows Electric Power Generation by resource from Q2 2015 to Q2 2017, graphically demonstrating that solar power employment accounts for the largest share of workers in this sector:

However, fossil fuel workers continue to reign supreme in the Fuels sector. Of the over one million workers in the Fuels sector in 2017, 47% worked with petroleum fuels (510,015 jobs) and 29% worked in natural gas (312,364 jobs), clearly dominating the Fuels sector as this USEER figure demonstrates:

Electric Vehicle Jobs Rise Sharply

In 2017, almost 220,000 employees worked with alternative fuels vehicles, including natural gas, hybrids, plug-in hybrids, all-electric, and fuel cell/hydrogen vehicles, a decline of almost 40,000 jobs.

Hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and all-electric vehicles made up over 90% of this number, supporting 197,000 employees. The number of jobs supported by hybrid and plug-in hybrids both declined, while jobs supported by all-electric vehicles rose sharply.

Over 476,000 employees of component parts companies in the Motor Vehicles sector are now contributing to more fuel-efficient vehicles, a slight decline from 2016. Almost one-quarter (23%) of all firms involved in Motor Vehicle component parts derive all of their revenue from products that increase fuel economy for Motor Vehicles, a significant increase.

At least 650,000 jobs (26%) in the Motor Vehicles sector were focused on increasing fuel economy or transitioning to alternative fuels in 2017 in the U.S.

Electric Power Generation Sector A Bit More Diverse than U.S. Workforce

In 2017, Electric Power Generation employed more women than any other surveyed sector, but still below the national average. The sector is slightly more ethnically diverse than the workforce as a whole, exceeding the national average for Hispanic or Latino, Asian, and Native American employees.

However, Electric Power Generation had only 11% of its employees over age 55 in 2017, far below the national average, while the Fuels sector was close to average at 23%. Fuels had a higher proportion of white employees when compared to national workforce averages. Both Electric Power Generation and Fuels exceeded the national average for veterans hiring at 10%.

Top 10 Clean Energy Job States in the U.S.

E2, a national nonpartisan group of business leaders, investors, and advocates for environmental and economic policies founded in 2000, released Clean Jobs America 2018, which reports that nearly 3.2 million Americans work in solar, wind, energy efficiency, clean vehicles, and other clean energy jobs. E2’s graphic of the top 10 state for clean energy jobs is telling:

U.S. Midwest a Clean Energy Job-Creator

Clean Energy Trust and E2 teamed up to produce Clean Jobs Midwest, which found that 714,000 Midwesterners now work in clean energy industries—more than all of the waiters and waitresses, computer programmers, lawyers, and web developers combined in the Midwest, according to the Department of Labor Employment Statistics.

The Midwest added 4,000 new renewable industry jobs in 2017, a 5% increase when other regions of the nation saw a dip in renewable energy job growth. The states that comprised the Midwest region are Michigan, Illinois, Ohio—which each had more than 100,000 clean energy jobs—Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

“Companies and communities, whether small or large, are prospering from clean energy and this is just the beginning,” said Gregg Mast, Executive Director of Clean Energy Economy Minnesota.

Half a Million New Global Renewable Energy Jobs

The International Renewable Energy Agency’s (IRENA) 2018 Annual Review of Renewable Energy and Jobs reported an increase of 500,000 renewable energy jobs created globally  in 2017, surpassing 10 million renewable energy workers for the first time. (IRENA counts hydropower jobs in the renewable energy sector.)

While the 2018 USEER found a drop-off in solar worker job creation from 2016 to 2017 in the U.S., IRENA found the global solar photovoltaic industry increased almost 9% to reach 3.4 million around the world, two-thirds of which were in China. Wind has a third of the solar workers (1.15 million), with 84% of all wind jobs based in China, Europe or North America.

According to IRENA’s director-general, Adnan. Z. Amin, “Renewable energy has become a pillar of low-carbon economic growth for governments all over the world, a fact reflected by the growing number of jobs created in the sector.” Amin further projects that the IRENA data supports analysis that decarbonizing the global energy system could create up to 28 million jobs in the sector by 2050.

The U.S. should take heed to not fall too far behind in embracing renewable energy. In solar PV employment, the U.S. currently stands way behind China, and a bit behind Japan as the following graphic from the IRENA report shows:

The U.S. also lags in wind employment, again trailing China by a wide margin and Germany:

As IRENA’s Amin observes: “The data also underscores an increasingly regionalised picture, highlighting that in countries where attractive policies exist, the economic, social, and environmental benefits of renewable energy are most evident.”

President Trump should take note and follow Senator Cantwell's lead: It is a huge economic mistake to walk away from clean energy; the clean energy economy is the future and a massive job-creator.

*The Department of Energy (DOE) did not compile the third annual USEER analysis of 2017 energy sector as previously done in 2016 and 2017. When it became known that the Trump Administration’s DOE did not plan to produce a 2018 report, the Energy Futures Initiative and the National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO) stepped up to ensure that the 2018 USEER was completed, using the identical survey instrument and underlying methodology of the prior two studies to provide a year-over-year comparison of sectors, technologies, and industries at the state and county level. (See Counting Clean Energy Jobs for a discussion of the 2017 USEER clean energy job data).

Eileen V. Quigley

Founder & Executive Director
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