Where are the Green Jobs?

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In the shadow of a sluggish U.S. economy and unemployment at 8.5 percent, green jobs are beginning to take root across the United States, and they’re expected to grow rapidly as the federal stimulus money works its way into the economy in the coming months.

In 2007, the nation had 504,000 jobs directly involved in renewable energy technologies: wind, solar, hydroelectric, geothermal, biomass, fuel cells and hydrogen. It claimed 8.6 million energy efficiency jobs in the areas of recycling, reuse and remanufacturing, household appliances, HVAC systems, construction, and auto manufacturing.

By 2030, the American Solar Energy Society estimates those numbers will swell to 7.3 million and 30 million respectively.

The driving force behind the growth of green jobs is shifting. In past years, that force was state and local government programs, like the 28 state renewable portfolio standards that require utilities to buy a minimum percentage of their power from renewable sources.

Now, the White House has its first green jobs advisor, and President Obama is preparing to build economic growth on his public vision of a green revolution. His blueprint, already working its way into the federal budget, puts the nation on track to create 5 million new jobs over the next 10 years with a $150 billion infusion into the clean energy and energy efficiency sectors.

Congress is already considering the president’s call for generating 25% of the nation’s electricity from renewable energy by 2025 – a number that appears as a national RPS in the climate legislation proposed by Reps. Henry Waxman and Ed Markey last week. The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that a 25% RPS alone would create nearly 300,000 new jobs.

So where are the green jobs?

Let’s follow the money. The Center for American Progress and the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute started with a hypothetical $100 billion federal government investment over the next two years in building retrofits for energy efficiency, mass transit, smart grid technology, wind and solar power, and advanced biofuels. Their conclusion: That infusion would easily add 2 million green jobs to the U.S. economy.

Consider building retrofits, which drew a large portion of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act’s more than $22 billion for energy efficiency.

Building retrofits will require electricians, heating and air conditioning installers, carpenters, construction equipment operators, roofers and insulators, industrial truck drivers, construction managers and building inspectors. Retrofits also bring in energy-efficient products, such as windows and insulation, which will have to be produced. Those products additionally require parts that add jobs down the supply line, plus each stage will require sales forces, managers, financial experts, and the list goes on.

More technologically advanced areas of the green build up draw in other skill sets. Developing advanced biofuels, for example, will call for chemists, chemical engineers, chemical equipment operators, mixing and blending machine operators, agricultural workers, industrial truck drivers, farm product purchasers, agricultural and forestry supervisors, and agricultural inspectors. The need for training in many green jobs adds roles for instructors, plus researchers to continue advancing the products.

“Each climate solution creates significant positive ripple effects throughout the economy in the labor and materials needed to supply low carbon technologies and products,” said Abraham Breehey of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers.

Breehey’s union co-sponsored the report Manufacturing Climate Solutions, produced by Duke University’s Center on Globalization, Governance & Competitiveness. The study looks down the supply chains of LED lighting, high-performance windows, auxiliary power units for trucks, concentrating solar power, super soil systems, heat pump water heaters, and recycling industrial waste energy.

On water heaters, it found that the 2009 Energy Star criteria could increase demand for heat pump water heaters, which draw in ambient warm air, heating water more efficiently than standard water heaters. Currently most heat pump water heater manufacturers get their components from abroad, but if demand here increases, job opportunities would open up at existing companies that make compressors, evaporators, water-cooled condensers, expansion valves, evaporator coils, fans and pumps.

To find those jobs, Environmental Defense Fund joined Duke in launching an ever-expanding Google maps project that pinpoints renewable energy and energy efficiency businesses in several states, particularly those hit hardest by manufacturing job losses.

Despite the poor economy – figures released on Friday show the U.S. unemployment rate hit 8.5 percent in March, with 13 million people out of work – a recent EDF survey found that 42 percent of companies in the renewable energy and energy efficiency sectors have seen their sales increase over the past two years, and another 42 percent reported stable sales. Half of those 500 companies said they planned to hire more staff this year.

That suggests the new White House green jobs advisor, Green for All founder Van Jones, was on the right track when he said:

“You can power your way through this recession with green solutions that are not just good for the earth, they’re also good for the economy.”

For more information about job opportunities and retraining, go to the national One-Stop Career Center network and the Job Corps, which administer programs funded by the federal stimulus package.

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