If anyone doubts renewable energy is the future for this country, they need only to look at employment numbers. According to a recent report from the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), employers in the renewables sector are hiring people 12 times faster than the rest of the economy.
One amazing thing is the size of the businesses. In the Energy Efficiency sector, companies with ten or less employees provide jobs for about 70 percent of the 2.2 million workers. The trend is toward small businesses striking out and creating jobs in sustainability to meet the growing demand for clean, inexpensive energy.
It’s easy to see why there’s demand. Through dropping prices, improved technology and partnerships, companies and contractors are making it easier for consumers to go renewable. One company, PowerScout, is partnering with wind energy giant Arcadia Power, to offer to offset 50 percent of a subscriber’s electricity usage with wind power. In some cases — depending on the deal Arcadia strikes up with the local utility — 100 percent of the original energy source can be replaced with wind-generated electricity. This speaks to the abundance of wind energy available.
Companies such as PowerScout link consumers with pre-screened clean energy contractors who compete to provide the lowest price for work. This type of service makes it easier for contractors with fewer than 10 employees to employ 70 percent of Energy Efficiency workers, because it makes it easier for consumers to find contractors.
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The number of solar and wind-related jobs has grown at a rate of 20 percent annually since 2011, with “Wind Turbine Technician” the fastest-growing profession in the US. Overall, sustainability careers number 4 million, up from 3.4 million in 2011. These aren’t low-paying jobs, either: EDF reports that Energy Efficiency positions pay an average of $5,000 above the US median annual salary. According to Glassdoor, the Wind Turbine Technician job pays $45,000 on average, while other technician jobs average $37,000.
The good news for renewable energy jobs comes at a time when the US jobs market is seeing mixed results. In March, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported a gain of only 98,000 jobs, down from 219,000 in February and 216,000 in January. This is well below what analysts expect to see in a strongly recovering economy.
According to Kimberly Amadeo of The Balance: “The economy needs 150,000 jobs each month to keep expanding.” Within the professional and business services category, growth in jobs related to services to buildings and dwellings continued to rise, with the addition of 17,000 jobs. Although the BLS doesn’t include Energy Efficiency jobs as a category, these positions would fall under the “services to buildings and dwellings” umbrella. So, even though the Energy Efficiency umbrella is steadily expanding, government policy isn’t reflecting it.
President Trump hopes to create more jobs in the fossil fuel arena, yet renewables have undeniable momentum. The Department of Energy’s US Energy and Employment Report shows that the solar employs more people for Electric Power Generation than coal, oil and natural gas combined. Energy Efficiency employment is expected to grow at a rate of 9 percent in 2017. Meanwhile, fossil fuel jobs have gone down by 4.25 percent annually since 2012.
There’s an interesting picture developing. Workers who lost their jobs in fossil fuel and manufacturing could find employment on wind farms or with solar installation companies. For the most part, these jobs don’t require graduate degrees — they’re not specialty occupations.
Yet, instead of encouraging job growth in the energy efficiency field, Trump is trying to encourage domestic hiring in the tech sector by altering the H-1B visa policy. The new policy states that “computer programmer” is no longer a specialty occupation; therefore, foreign programmers don’t qualify for an H-1B visa. Indian computer programmers and tech companies are appalled.
Tech companies in America won’t benefit, because they rely on highly skilled, highly trained Indian programmers, who used to be able to get visas. Displaced coal miners and manufacturers won’t benefit, because their experience does not easily translate over to tech jobs, such as computer programmer. Thankfully, they can look to Energy Efficiency jobs, instead. If Trump were to put his full support behind renewable energy and the EPA, we would see even more Energy Efficiency jobs.
Regardless, if the EDF and the DOE’s reports mean anything for the future, it’s that the free market will triumph for renewables, with or without governmental action.