Money Talks: US Clean Energy Jobs Outnumber Fossil Fuel Jobs 3-to-1

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Last year’s downturn in solar installations put a damper on the clean energy party in the US, but that’s only part of the story. If you factor in all clean tech — including energy storage, energy efficiency, and clean vehicles — the US economy still added 110,000 new jobs in the clean energy sector in 2018.

According to number-crunching from the nonpartisan business group E2 (Environmental Entrepreneurs), those new jobs pumped the total of clean energy jobs in the US up to 3.26 million last year, or about 3.6% over the previous year and almost three times the number of fossil fuel jobs.

Clean Energy Jobs By The Numbers

E2 has all the clean energy job numbers in a new report titled 2019 Clean Jobs America.

Breaking things down by sector, the report saw the strong growth in the clean energy storage and clean vehicle sectors, at 14% and 15 % respectively.

That thing about clean vehicles is no surprise to Tesla fans. The company has seen quarterly deliveries of its signature electric vehicle skyrocket in six years.

Just a couple of years ago spotting a Tesla EV in the parking lot of your local supermarket was a big wow. Now the sightings occur on a daily basis (well, that’s the case along Route 22 in New Jersey — if you’ve noticed a similar pattern in your area, drop us a note in the comment thread).

In January of 2018, our friends over at the Environmental Defense Fund highlighted clean vehicles as a strong growth sector for clean energy jobs with this observation:

U.S. automakers are making commitments to invest more. For example, in early 2018 Ford released plans to invest $11 billion over the next five years and offer 40 different hybrid and fully electric vehicles by 2022.

Do tell!

The Energy Storage Factor

Energy storage is also a no-brainer when the topic turns to clean energy jobs. The job increases in the US mirror a global energy storage trend that our friends over at GE noted last year:

Global energy storage markets are about to pop. Use cases are proliferating in multiple countries, demonstrating the value of energy storage for numerous applications on both sides of the meter.

Before you get too excited, one caveat about energy storage and clean tech is in order. The E2 report focuses on clean energy storage, but it’s important to note that energy storage is source-neutral. Fossil fuel and nuclear energy fans are promoting energy storage as way to harvest value from conventional power plants during low-demand periods. In addition to battery storage, hydrogen production and storage is an emerging field of interest in those sectors.

That’s a legit point as far as it goes. However, wind and solar costs are dropping so far, so fast, that any bottom line boost from energy storage will most likely not help much over the long run.

The simple fact is that time works against all infrastructure. Most of the remaining coal and nuclear power plants in the US date back to the 20th century, and they aren’t getting any younger. At a certain point financial stakeholders have to weigh the cost of repairs, replacements, and/or upgrades versus the benefits of permanently mothballing an older facility.

The timeline is somewhat longer for natural gas power plants in the US, many of which were constructed on the heels of the fracking boom of the 21st century. Natural gas stakeholders have also made a pretty good case that their technology meshes with the renewable energy integration strategy promoted by the US Department of Energy.

Nevertheless, the clock is running out on gas power plants, too.

Aside from the bottom line attraction of wind and solar, local opposition to new gas pipelines creates a huge headache for local utilities and their customers. That includes a growing number of leading business stakeholders that are sensitive to environmental issues, including environmental justice.

Then there’s that whole thing about natural gas fracking and that other thing about methane emissions but those are whole ‘nother cans of worms.

Don’t Forget About Energy Efficiency

Another area highlighted by the report is energy efficiency:

According to E2’s 2019 Clean Jobs America analysis, energy efficiency added the most new jobs in 2018 of any energy industry, accounting for half (76,000) of the sector’s total job increase (151,700). Energy efficiency’s dominance in clean energy employment continues to be driven by construction (1.3 million) and manufacturing (321,000). Energy efficiency-related jobs make up more than one out of every six US construction jobs.

According to the report, as of 2018 “more Americans work in energy efficiency (2.3 million) than there are waiters and waitresses in America’s bars and restaurants (2.25 million).”

That’s even without including 486,000 jobs in the motor vehicle supply chain for manufacturing auto parts related to fuel efficiency.

One relatively new factor driving clean energy jobs in the buildings and construction sector is the growth of energy efficiency-as-a-service. As with the now-familiar power purchase agreements that propelled the wind and solar industries, efficiency-as-a-service enables companies to upgrade their equipment with no money up front. The cost is paid back incrementally, through savings on utility bills.

Clean Energy Jobs: Everybody Wins!

As for the bad news, the E2 report notes that the solar industry lost jobs for the second year in a row in 2018, but it grew in 18 states. That’s consistent with numbers from job tracking by the Solar Foundation.

So much for the bad news. Then there’s this:

Solar remains the top U.S. job provider in electric power generation—leading natural gas by more than 200,000 jobs —while wind is third, trailing natural gas by fewer than 1,500 jobs.

According to the report, almost every US state experienced an overall growth in clean energy jobs last year, and clean energy jobs outnumber fossil jobs 3-to-1.

That’s not the end of the good news. Clean energy employers surveyed in the report expect jobs to increase by 6% in 2019, with an 8% increase anticipated for solar.

All things being equal, another 6% increase overall should widen the gap between clean energy jobs and fossil fuel jobs, but hold the champagne.

Although the US coal sector has been bleeding jobs for generations, oil and gas are still on a tear. In addition, major oil and gas stakeholders like ExxonMobil are doubling down on plastics and other petrochemicals as a hedge against declining demand for fossil fuels.

Nevertheless, all this is by way of saying that clean tech is a significant economic driver in the US, with or without support from the current occupant of the Oval Office.

For the record, the E2 report draws from this source:

…the 2019 U.S. Energy and Employment Report (USEER) produced by the Energy Futures Initiative (EFI) in partnership with the National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO), using data collected and analyzed by the BW Research Partnership.

Also for the record, E2 notes that the first USEER report was introduced by the US Department of Energy in 2016, but was dropped by the Trump administration. Shocker!

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Photo (cropped): via E2.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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