Solar-energy jobs are growing 12 times as fast as the US economy
Updated: Jul 13, 2020
If you’re looking to switch careers, you may want to listen to the wind.
A new report says wind turbine technician is the fastest-growing profession in the US.
The growth in wind power is just one example of the rising employment numbers associated with the clean energy and sustainability sector. According to the report, published by the Environmental Defense Fund’s Climate Corps program, the industry now has at least 4 million jobs, up from 3.4 million in 2011.
The report estimates that solar and wind jobs are growing at a rate 12 times as fast as the rest of the US economy and suggests that 46% of large firms have hired additional workers to address issues of sustainability over the past two years.
Those gains stand in contrast to President Donald Trump’s stance on energy. The president has consistently championed eliminating environmental regulations and increasing fossil-fuel production as a promising way to bring jobs to America.
“Trump’s current approach is basically ignoring an entire industry that has grown up over the last 10 years or so and is quite robust,” Liz Delaney, the program director at EDF Climate Corps, tells Business Insider.
Trump has claimed that the Keystone XL Pipeline would create 28,000 good construction jobs, though reports suggest he exaggerated the number by a factor of seven. And while the White House website suggests that eliminating regulations like the Climate Action Plan and Waters of the US rule would increase worker wages by more than $30 billion over the next seven years, Climate Central says that number is based on a non-peer-reviewed paper (written for a fossil-industry organization) that looked at the potential economic impacts of opening all protected federal land to unlimited mining and drilling.
According to the EDF report, however, the compound annual growth rate of employment in the fossil-fuel industry (a measurement of the average growth per year) was -4.5% from 2012 to 2015. Renewable-energy jobs had a rate of 6% during that period. Oil and gas production jobs increased in November 2016 for the first time in two years, following a slump caused by low oil prices. The average number of employees at US coal mines dropped by 12% in 2015, according to the Energy Information Administration.
When it comes to electricity generation in the US, the Department of Energy’s 2017 Energy and Employment Report suggests that the solar industry now employs more people than coal, oil, and gas combined. Oil still employs the largest share when including jobs related to fuels, however.
“Our findings would lead us to believe that the right place to invest dollars are in renewable energy rather than fossil fuels,” Delaney says. “These jobs are widely geographically distributed, they’re high paying, they apply to both manufacturing and professional workers, and there are a lot of them.”
Delaney says one of the most surprising findings of the EDF report is that 70% of the 2.2 million Americans who work in jobs related to energy efficiency are employed by companies with 10 employees or fewer.
“What we’re talking about here are American small businesses,” she says, adding that because many sustainability jobs involve installation, maintenance, and construction, they’re harder to outsource.
Though federal subsidies and tax credits have helped foster the growth of solar and wind power in the US — thereby adding jobs in those industries — much of the trend is due to the falling prices of both technologies. The EDF’s report suggests the cost of production for solar PV panels dropped 72% from 2010 to 2015, making solar power much more competitive in the energy market. Solar deployment, consequently, has expanded tenfold since 2010, from to 10,727 megawatts installed annually from 876.
It’s possible that Trump’s promises to scale back environmental regulation and cut research in renewables may add new fossil-fuel industry jobs and even curtain growth in the sustainability sector, but market forces suggest it would be very difficult to stop the overall trend toward renewables. The Department of Energy’s Energy and Employment Report predicts that energy-efficiency employment will have a 9% growth rate over the next 12 months — higher than any other energy sector.
“I think it’s really all about speed of transition,” Delaney says. “I think the transition will continue, but there’s a role that the federal government can play in supporting that, which is significant.”
If the federal government abandons that role to boost the fossil-fuel industry, she says, the US will be giving up a tremendous growth opportunity.