The Shining Future of the GREEN Economy
Employment in the clean energy sector features, first and foremost, jobs in energy efficiency (of the over 3 million U.S. clean energy jobs total). These include jobs in companies that feature EnergyStar products, as well as jobs in producing energy efficient technologies such as LED and CFL lighting and manufacturing electric vehicles (EVs). Jobs in smart grid, maintaining smart meters, clean energy storage, renewable energy, and in sustainable mass transit, are also included in the over 3 million clean energy jobs in the United States figure (cited below).
With regard to sustainable transportation, jobs in EV, plug-in hybrid, and hybrid vehicle production, in addition to jobs in sustainable mass transit, and in biofuel production, are also included in the U.S. clean energy jobs figures below. Clean energy jobs are also jobs in solar, wind, and other jobs in renewable energy (RE) production, managing RE, and distribution of RE.
California, Washington, New Mexico, Hawaii, and Washington DC have all committed to the goal of 100% renewable energy (100RE). A few other states plan to follow suit, and 26 states have passed Energy Efficiency Resource Standards (which includes RE, nuclear, and potentially highly efficient fossil fuel production with carbon capture).
Renewable Energy JOBS are UP
For example, coal provides Americans with less than 80,000 jobs; but only about half that number of jobs in the United States are in actual coal mining, the rest of the jobs in U.S. coal are in associated jobs. Jobs in transporting the coal and maintaining the coal mines, or in maintaining coal-fired power plants, could be transitioned to clean energy jobs.
The following is a snippet from E2.org on the clean energy job market in the U.S.-
“At the start of 2020, clean energy employment increased for the fifth straight year since this annual report was first released—growing beyond 3.3 million workers nationwide.
While California remained the nation’s undisputed leader in clean energy jobs, states as diverse in size and structure as Texas and Massachusetts also are in the top ten for clean energy jobs. Florida, North Carolina and Georgia continued to lead the South, while Michigan, Illinois and Ohio led the Midwest. On a per capita basis of statewide total employment, the Northeast claimed the top five spots with Vermont, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maryland, and Delaware employing the largest share of clean energy jobs per capita in the country.” FROM – e2.org/reports/clean-jobs-america
Quote on how clean energy jobs pay more on average than the median wage for other job sectors in the U.S.-
“Overall, median wages in clean energy are significantly higher than median wages in sectors such as retail, services, recreation and accommodations, especially when it comes to entry-level wages.” FROM – solarpowerworldonline.com/clean-energy-job-wages-higher-than-national-median-report-finds
Clean Energy JOBS
Clean energy jobs continue to provide the most job opportunity; even in the middle of the country; the Plains states, the Midwest, and the Southern states.
Overall, when you add the rest of the clean energy jobs to jobs directly in renewable energy, there are over 3 million jobs in clean energy in the United States. This figure includes energy efficiency-related jobs, clean energy storage jobs, and clean transportation jobs. Employment that is directly in renewable energy in the U.S. features jobs in solar and wind; although jobs in hydroelectricity, biomass, and geothermal energy are also included.
Wind turbine technician is the single fastest-growing job in the United States. “Wind [and solar] farms—and the new jobs that come with them—have swept across the Midwest [and Southwest U.S.], where coal and traditional manufacturing gigs have vanished.” Quote from – motherjones.com/wind-iowa-energy-coal
Solar energy also has impressive employment growth statistics, with about 1 in 50 new jobs created in the United States coming from the solar industry. The fastest-growing job in solar is solar panel installer. Sustainability professionals, sustainable builders, and clean car engineers are also among the fastest-growing jobs in clean energy, and the United States as a whole.
To see recent clean jobs statistics, please see: eesi.org/files/FactSheet_Climate_Jobs
Green JOBS = Fast-Growing JOBS
There are 3 times more jobs in the clean energy sector than in fossil fuels. There are over 2 million Americans who have energy efficiency jobs; energy efficiency is the fastest-growing employment opportunity sector of the U.S. economy. The majority of jobs in energy efficiency are in construction and manufacturing, although many jobs in the energy efficiency sector are in Energy Star, smart grid, and energy storage. 1 in every 6 American construction jobs is in energy efficiency. The future of employment in the energy sector is in clean energy, energy efficiency, and renewable energy, not in fossil fuels.
This article in Mother Jones sums it up perfectly:
Wind [and solar] farms—and the new jobs that come with them—have swept across the Midwest [and Southwest U.S.], where coal and traditional manufacturing gigs have vanished.
In the “wind belt” between Texas and North Dakota, the price of wind energy is finally equal to and in some cases cheaper than that of fossil fuels. Thanks to investments in transmission lines, better computer controls, and more efficient turbines, the cost to US consumers fell two-thirds in just six years, according to the American Wind Energy Association.
Still, not all windy states have a turbine-friendly climate. In Wyoming, for example, coal-loving legislators passed a tax on wind energy in 2010 and are also considering penalizing utilities for including renewables in their portfolios.
The next few years will see a showdown between “rural Republicans who really want to get the economic boost [wind & solar, other renewables] offers to their district, versus Republican ideologues who don’t like renewables because they like fossil fuels”—and whose campaign contributions depend on protecting them.
So farmers—and voters —will have to fight for wind [and other renewables] which, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency, offer the greatest potential for growth in US renewable power generation.
According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the renewable energy sector is adding over 1/2 million jobs annually worldwide, for a growth rate of over 5%, far eclipsing the potential for growth and employment potential in fossil fuels.
Forbes says that by switching from coal to renewable energy, the United States’ economy will save billions of dollars, in part by taking advantage of the lower levelized cost of energy (LCOE) of renewable energy sources vs. fossil fuels; and by avoiding the cost of negative externalities of fossil fuels (the cost of damage to public health and damage to the environment of fossil fuels).
The cost savings to the United States economy by transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy include, most significantly, reducing the cost of mitigation and adaptation to anthropogenic climate change by investing in sustainable technologies such as renewable energy and energy efficiency vs. fossil fuels.
The renewable energy industry employs over 500,000 people in the United States. The coal industry is responsible for under 120,000 jobs in the U.S. (see: nytimes.com/interactive/climate/todays-energy-jobs-are-in-solar-not-coal). There is already billions of dollars invested in installed renewable energy capacity in the United States, including over $12 billion of private investment in 2018 US wind energy alone.
Individual states that are leaders in solar & hydroelectricity include coastal and southwest states, especially west and northeast coastal states for hydroelectricity, and southwest states for solar. Wind energy production is dominated by states in the Plains and Midwest.
[Please note that states like California create a lot of solar energy, but even more hydroelectricity. Hydroelectricity is produced in higher quantities as far as overall energy production in California (over 20% of the state’s energy is from hydroelectric sources), and that makes hydroelectricity the dominant form of renewable energy in the state. However, California produces a substantial amount of solar energy (over 11% statewide). California, Washington, New Mexico, Hawaii, and Washington DC have all committed to the goal of 100% renewable energy. A few other states plan to follow suit.]
For a set of policies focused on increasing the momentum of clean job growth in the United States, please see GCT’s Guide to Green Energy Public Policies
Renewable Energy costs are down
For your reference, here is Lazard‘s 2020 levelized cost of energy (LCOE) chart>> On the 2020 LCOE chart, it’s renewable energy sources (especially onshore wind farms and utility-scale solar) with the best overall price of all energy sources; and wind energy and utility-scale PV are now priced lower than coal; onshore wind and utility-scale PV are now even cheaper than gas combined cycle (when the full LCOE is taken into account)>>>
The cost of producing energy with renewable energy vs. fossil fuels is dramatically lower when just the cost of producing electricity (marginal cost) is considered. When the costs of the negative externalities (negative externalities of fossil fuels– damage/ cost to the environment and public health, climate change) associated with fossil fuel production are added in with the LCOE*, the relative cost of renewable energy sources vs. the cost of fossil fuels is lower still.
The negative externalities associated with coal are particularly dire; not only black lung in coal miners, also a general public health hazard in fine particulates, and other toxins, emitted into the air during the energy production process with coal. Those public health issues are in addition to coal’s significant contribution to anthropogenic climate change, and other forms of air, land, and water pollution associated with coal.
Overall, the lowest cost of energy production is onshore wind (which also has minimal negative externalities), followed by utility-scale solar, and natural gas (which carries the cost of negative externalities). Producing energy from coal is no longer cheaper than renewables or gas, and is damaging to public health and the environment.
[*Examples of levelized costs of energy include: up-front capital costs/ costs of initial investment (which are much higher for renewable energy than fossil fuel energy), the marginal cost of the fuel source (which is much higher for fossil fuels, and almost nothing for free, abundant sources of renewable energy like solar and wind energy, and very low cost for hydro, geothermal, and biomass), cost of maintenance for the power plant/ energy farm/ dam, etc…, cost of transporting the fuel (again, zero for most renewable energy), costs associated with transmitting/ distributing the energy, insurance costs for the energy-producing facility, etc…]
“Levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) is often cited as a convenient summary measure of the overall competitiveness of different generating technologies. It represents the per-MWh cost (in discounted real dollars) of building and operating a generating plant over an assumed financial life and duty cycle. 4 Key inputs to calculating LCOE include capital costs, fuel costs, fixed and variable operations and maintenance (O&M) costs, financing costs, and an assumed utilization rate for each plant.” – quote from the EIA.
In this chart, you can clearly see how much more expensive nuclear and coal are projected to remain in comparison to renewables-
For the initial capital costs, nuclear is the most expensive form of energy. The “good” thing about nuclear energy production is that there are low marginal costs, and there are little to no negative externalities with regard to the actual energy production, i.e. little to no GHG emissions.
With nuclear, it’s necessary to find secure locations to safely store the radioactive waste. Nuclear power plants must evolve to the point where there’s no chance for another Fukushima-type catastrophe. However, future planned 4th generation nuclear power plants will be safe, autonomous, more sustainable than current nuclear plants, and more cost-efficient.
For the future the first half of this century, nuclear energy is going to remain an unlikely ally to clean energy in the fight against anthropogenic climate change. Coal is out for the reasons stated above; coal is no longer a viable, cost-efficient energy fuel source. Petroleum is mostly used to fuel vehicles around the world (although hopefully, the world population will continue to move toward electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids, and hybrid cars). It’s safe to assume diesel generators will still be used to produce energy, largely for third world countries, island nations, remote locations, and energy backup.
Renewable energy and natural gas are the future of energy production, as seen in this recent study by the University of Texas at Austin Energy Institute. Overall, renewable energy (and natural gas) are both cheaper sources of fuel for energy production AND better, larger sources of employment; thus, renewable energy is better for the environment AND the economy.
For more information on these, and similar topics, please see: