Wind and solar energy jobs now outnumber coal and gas jobs in 30 U.S. states, including Washington, D.C., according to a new report released by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).
The report, “In Demand: Clean Energy, Sustainability and the New American Workforce,” finds that the clean energy and sustainability economy provides local jobs in all 50 states, frequently pays higher-than-average wages, and offers numerous career and educational pathways, says EDF. (Note: The report uses sources that reference 2016, the most recent year of available data. Therefore, some policy and market developments in 2017 may not be fully reflected in the data, EDF says.)
“The clean energy workforce has skyrocketed, launching us into the new clean energy economy while supporting American workers,” says Ellen Shenette, manager of EDF Climate Corps, a summer fellowship program that accelerates clean energy initiatives and spearheaded the new report.
The report says the U.S. renewable energy sector employed 777,000 people at the beginning of 2017 – roughly as many as in the U.S. telecommunications industry. Notably, these renewable energy jobs outnumber coal and gas jobs – at more than 558,000 – by nearly 1.5 to 1.
At 48%, bioenergy (biofuels, biomass and biogas) is the largest employer of renewable energy jobs, while solar is second at 33%. Wind energy comes in third place at 13%, while geothermal and small hydropower account for 5% and 1%, respectively. For wind and solar particularly, Texas and California employ the most workers, the report adds.
By 2020, the report predicts that Texas, Colorado and Iowa will each have more than 15,000 wind jobs. In addition, North Dakota, Minnesota, Illinois and Ohio are expected to have 7,500-15,000 wind jobs.
The report, co-authored by Meister Consultants Group, a Cadmus Company, notes that 2017 marked a year of political uncertainty at the federal level: It centered on the future of renewable energy tax incentives and the potential tariff on imported solar modules. (The Trump administration’s final decision to approve 30% solar tariffs came on Monday.) In turn, at the end of 2017, there was a 22% decrease in cumulative solar installations compared with last year’s numbers, says EDF.
However, the report, citing numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, projects that solar PV installers and wind turbine service technicians will be the two fastest-growing jobs in America from 2016 to 2026, roughly doubling during that period. In addition, EDF says solar and wind installations comprised 65% of installed electric capacity in 2016, and for the third year in a row, they exceeded the installed capacity of all other electricity sources combined.
The report also highlights the stories of three former EDF Climate Corps fellows currently working in this industry, including Ben Metcalf, a former operations officer for the U.S. Navy, who shifted his career to focus on utility-scale solar development and now works at Galehead Development.
“Every day, I witness the many jobs – from blue to white collar positions – that support the demand for clean energy,” says Metcalf. “I’m confident that the policies over the next 12 months will not slow the market’s long-term positive outlook.”
The report also provides recommendations for sustaining clean energy job growth, such as increasing investments in clean energy research, supporting smart climate policy, and ensuring that companies set publicized greenhouse-gas emissions reductions goals.
“Businesses have become key catalysts in helping drive the clean energy economy by setting goals and investing in energy efficiency technologies,” adds EDF’s Shenette. “Companies are recognizing that the market is demanding a low-carbon economy, and they’re seeing the benefits to their bottom lines. What business wants to bet against the market?”
The full report can be found here.