Clean Energy Jobs Outpace Fossil Fuel Jobs

Kansas Wind Turbines

Green Jobs by the Numbers

Job fields related clean energy are posting record job growth nationwide. A new report from the Environmental Defense Fund's Climate Corps estimates that solar and wind jobs are growing at a rate 12 times as fast as the rest of the US economy. The total number of employees:

  • Over 360,000 in solar, and 100,000 in wind.
  • Approximately 2.2 million energy efficiency workers nationwide, working in construction to install energy efficient fixtures and appliances.
  • 170,000 workers developing advanced car technologies like clean-fuel vehicles with jobs ranging from engineering to assembly. Of these workers, 20% work on electric vehicles.
  • The public sector employs nearly 890,000 green jobs at the local, state, and federal levels of government.

DOE (US Department of Energy) Energy and Jobs Report

This means that there are now more American jobs in solar than in coal. According to a DOE (US Department of Energy) Energy and Jobs Report over 370,000 Americans worked part-time or full-time in solar energy, with 260,000 of them spending a majority of their time on solar projects. This compares to coal which employed 160,000 workers nationwide with just 54,000 coal jobs in mining.

What some misunderstand is that 'green jobs' covers a range of skills throughout a lengthy and complex product cycle. Inventors, engineers, financiers, technicians, environmental analysts, manufacturers and others are supported by Federal and local policies, labs and research at our colleges and universities as well as our corporations, banks and others creating new long term finance options and many more. For every job in the field, hundreds of people are in the background supporting that person, and getting paid for it.

The energy market drives clean energy forward.

President Donald Trump has advocated for eliminating environmental regulations and increasing fossil-fuel production as a promising way to bring jobs to America. Yet some fossil fuel industries, like coal, have seen negative growth for years in a row, and are fading not because of environmental regulations but because of economics. The decline in coal since 2012 can be attributed to market competition from abundant, cheap, natural gas, which has encouraging utilities to upgrade natural gas infrastructure and decommission coal plants. Along with the decline in coal demand, automation and machinery has reduced the numbers of workers needed to extract and process the coal and other fossil fuels.

Market forces suggest it would be very difficult to stop the overall trend toward renewable energy, even if environmental regulations and research are scaled back. The DOE’s Energy and Employment Report predicts that energy efficiency employment will have the highest growth rate of any energy sector field at 9%, a level of growth that can’t be reversed by investing in fossil fuels.

Case Study: Kansas holds huge potential for wind energy.

Wind turbines Smoky Hills Wind FarmLocated centrally in the Midwest, Kansas lies in center of America’s wind corridor, stretching from North Dakota south into Texas, where the vast majority of the nation’s land based wind energy is produced. Kansas has led the nation over the past decade in scaling up renewable electricity generation with an astronomical growth in generation of 1,678% from 2001-2007, about a 75% growth each year.

In terms of what the state is able to produce in the future, the sky's the limit. According to the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL), Kansas has the 2nd highest wind potential in the U.S. after Texas, with an estimated 952 GW of possible capacity, capable of generating over 3,102 TWh of electricity. To put that number in perspective, this maximum potential generation of 3,102 TWh would represent 75% of all electricity generated in the United States in 2011. It is not just about the sheer potential for wind generation, but that the state could reap huge economic and job benefits.

NREL projects that if Kansas were to develop 7,158 MW of new wind by 2030 the economic impact for the state would total over $7.8 billion, representing a 6% growth of Kansas’s total GDP, in benefit to local economies and landowners. The state would see over 26,000 new jobs created, representing 16% of the working age population according to population projections for the state.

Further, forecasts indicate that for every 1,000 MW of wind developed in Kansas, cumulative economic benefits would be $1.08 billion, with annual CO2 reduction estimated at 3.2 million tons, and annual water savings at 1,816 million gallons. These benefits could be amplified by developing more localized manufacturing, installation, supply and maintenance industry within the State.

Kansas already export clean wind energy to it’s neighboring states, but there is huge potential for export to the southern and the eastern U.S., where renewable generation opportunities are more limited. The exportation and transmission of wind generated electricity could become a major industry for Kansas.

Another industry that could see growth is manufacturing. In the 6 years leading up to 2008, Kansas lost 10,944 manufacturing jobs totaling 6% of the manufacturing workforce. The manufacturing potential of wind turbines lies mostly in the southeastern part of Kansas, which could alleviate the relatively high unemployment rates haunting the area since 2008.

Economics Overcomes Politics

In Middle America, many states have Republican governors and legislatures that are  traditionally not supportive of climate based policies. However, Republican leaders see tapping the wind as an economic strategy rather than a climate strategy. “We export lots of things, and in our future, I want us to export a lot of wind power” said Kansas’ conservative Republican governor, Sam Brownback.

The state recently repealed a law requiring that 20 percent of the state’s electric power come from renewable sources by 2020, seemingly a step backward on energy. Yet by the time the law was scrapped, it had become largely irrelevant. Kansas passed that 20% target in 2014, and is now generating more than 30 percent of its power from wind. The state may be the first in the country to hit 50% wind generation in the next few years.

Wind turbines in Garden City, KS by Dustin Gaffke

The economics of clean energy allows utilities to lock in low power prices for decades, creates manufacturing jobs, puts steady money in the hands of farmers who host wind turbines, and lures big corporate employers who want renewable power.

Growth in wind presents additional opportunities for jobs. Although wind blows at night, making it a more consistent sources of electricity than solar, the variability of generation creates a market for energy storage solutions like battery banks. Jobs in energy storage is just one example of a job field that can benefit from growth in clean energy jobs. The strong growth in green jobs indicates that government and business leaders of our country see the move to more environmentally efficient technologies not just a climate move, but a move to grow industry and the economy.