The lure of coal and oil, is that the raw materials are largely free, paid for with government rights payments, which are a fraction of their value and obtained with the cost of extraction. That cost can often involve human costs. For instance the US coal industry once employed (around 1923) 883,000 people. But today it is a sorrowful employer of some 50,000.
But employment in renewable energy is typically a far larger component of its absolute value, making it a win-win for any economy now that costs are largely in line with one another. Wind and Solar, like coal and oil, are effectively free, you just have to build something which will capture the energy from them, and pay a government for permission to go and capture it in a particular location.
Today renewables in the US, one of the most backward countries in the world when it comes to renewables (with low end percentage penetration) already employs some 3.3 million people, up 50,000 during 2018 which could have been so much more. It is likely to grow to more than double this as a greater percentage of America’s energy begins to come from renewables, according to figures out this week from E2 (Environmental Entrepreneurs) which tracks all sector changes relating to the economy and the environments. The count includes anyone working in renewable energy, energy efficiency, clean vehicles, battery storage, advanced biofuels and hydro. Clean energy jobs outnumbered fossil fuel jobs 3 to 1 in 2018.
But the analysis does not end there. Whereas most communities around the world sees the workforce in renewables growing consistently, in the US it is adversely affected by policy. Jobs in Solar actually declined due to tariffs on steel and solar panels brought in by President Trump. What was he thinking? The US needs a stimulus to get itself ahead of the Chinese in Solar Panel manufacturing, not blocks on Solar spending. However wind energy jobs grew by nearly 4% and energy efficiency was the number one sector in total jobs, up 3.4% to 2.3 million jobs. The trouble is that in the US jobs in Wind are split between US energy businesses, and European and Chinese turbine makers and operating companies, not solely at US owned companies due to technology leadership being outside the US.
Clean energy jobs grew 3.6% in 2018, adding jobs in nearly every state and combining to add over 110,000 net new clean energy jobs nationally.
So far this has been achieved with just 12 US States setting a policy of getting 100% of electricity from clean energy sources, so there is much more to come.
And there are just 10 US States which generate over 20% of their electricity from wind and solar—Kansas, Iowa, Oklahoma, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, California, Maine, Colorado, and Minnesota.
The combined capacity of installed solar and wind was 150GW in 2018 with Wind being the largest source of renewable generating capacity, but a new solar project is installed in America every two minutes, says E2, although that’s not grid scale implementations, mostly homes.
The number of jobs in clean vehicles manufacturing increased by 16% in 2018 and about 254,000 Americans now work at companies building hybrid, electric and other clean vehicles, with another 486,000 working at companies which make parts to make those vehicles more efficient.
Energy storage saw a 14% rise in jobs as utilities, businesses and consumers deployed more batteries in EVs and with solar and wind installations, while grid modernization jobs grew by 3.3%.
And E2 called on central government to modernize the grid and expand electric vehicle charging infrastructure and stop trying to roll-back to a fuel based economy. It wants to extend expired energy efficiency tax credits to energy storage and offshore wind, which under Trump is unlikely.
And E2 finished on financials saying that there was $1 trillion sitting at Financial institutions as the US is ready to double investments in renewable energy by 2030 – it just needs the right policy conditions to do so.