Inside Clean Energy: Here’s How Covid-19 Is Affecting The Biggest Source of Clean Energy Jobs

Since the pandemic arrived, the country has lost almost 600,000 clean energy jobs.

A Veterans Green Jobs employee drills holes to blow cellulose insulation in the interior walls of this Colorado home undergoing weatherization. Credit: Dennis Schroeder/NREL
A Veterans Green Jobs employee drills holes to blow cellulose insulation in the interior walls of this Colorado home undergoing weatherization. Credit: Dennis Schroeder/NREL

Share this article

Inside Clean Energy

Talk about clean energy jobs and it often conjures images of wind turbines and solar panels. But wind and solar represent just a fraction of the jobs of the big kahuna that is energy efficiency.

And energy efficiency jobs—which include manufacturers and installers of efficient lighting, appliances and heating systems, among many other groups—are taking a beating because of the coronavirus and the economic disruption it has caused. 

This is a shame because these are products and services that help people save energy and save money, and that’s just what we need right now.

Some numbers: Of the 3.4 million clean energy jobs in the United States last year, 2.4 million were in energy efficiency, followed by 522,811 in renewable energy, and the rest in smaller categories of clean energy jobs. This is according to the Clean Jobs America 2020 report from Environmental Entrepreneurs, or E2, a trade group for clean energy companies.


We deliver climate news to your inbox like nobody else. Every day or once a week, our original stories and digest of the web's top headlines deliver the full story, for free.


Since the pandemic hit, the country has lost 594,300 clean energy jobs, according to a report issued last week by BW Research Partnership, the same firm that did the data analysis for the E2 report.

Of that total, 413,500, or 70 percent of the losses, were in energy efficiency.

“Our previous projection of a half million or 15 percent of all clean energy jobs lost by the end of June has already been surpassed,” said the report, by Philip Jordan of BW Research Partnership.

Covid-19's Impact on Clean Energy Jobs

Jordan offered a new projection: The country, he believes, is on track to lose 850,000 clean energy jobs by the end of June, which would be 25 percent of the jobs that were in place before the virus hit.

“Some customers have said they want to get work done, but just are not comfortable right now,” said Mark Hall, founder and CEO of in Oakland, California, a company with five employees that helps customers implement energy-saving plans.

But he told me he is optimistic that the worst is behind him and his company will soon be able to get back to some semblance of normal.

John Seryak, CEO of Go Sustainable Energy in Columbus, Ohio, has been unable to do site visits with his customers, which is a key part of how his company advises them on potential changes to lighting, insulation and heating and cooling.

But he hasn’t had to lay off any of his staff of 16 people, in part because his business has a number of big jobs already in progress,and his customers are mainly large organizations with the budgets to follow through on existing contracts.

Still, this has been a stressful and disorienting time. Seryak said he wants to remind people that energy efficiency is a virtuous form of cost-cutting.

“A lot of organizations are going to focus on cost-cutting and energy efficiency helps to do that,” he said. “It’s an economic activity that helps align with what customers want and need to do in the near term. It can have quick returns on investments, which is going to be highly valued. It creates jobs.”

Clean energy advocacy groups have called on Congress to make clean energy jobs a part of stimulus legislation, which could take many forms, including grants and loans to help companies and households do energy-saving projects. That’s what the Obama administration did with the 2009 stimulus.

But I’m not holding my breath for similar action now, a time when clean energy is getting caught up in larger partisan fights.

Sales of Internal Combustion Engines May Have Already Peaked

For the world to reduce emissions from vehicles, internal combustion engines need to hit their global peak and then fade from the market.

A new report from BloombergNEF suggests that peak has already been passed.

The engines probably hit the smog-clouded top of the mountain in 2017, when global passenger car sales reached 87 million vehicles, of which 99 percent had internal combustion engines.

The overall market has fallen since then, and now is in freefall because of the coronavirus. Even EV sales are decreasing, with the forecast showing sales down 18 percent from 2019.

At the same time, automakers are ramping up sales of electric vehicles, with plans to introduce an array of new models. BloombergNEF is projecting that the auto market will need until the mid-2020s to get back to the sales numbers of 2017, and by then EVs will have a much larger share. Internal combustion engines will never get back to their 2017 totals.

Electric Vehicles Rising

“The biggest barriers to EV adoption that we’ve heard about for the past five years—unaffordability, limited range, and lack of charging infrastructure, to name a few—are all beginning to disappear,” said Nick Albanese, an auto analyst for BloombergNEF, in an email. “Battery prices are falling, EV driving ranges are increasing and a plethora of players are investing in charging infrastructure.”

The fading of internal combustion engines is not occurring as fast as many environmental advocates want, but it will be enough to leave no doubt about the direction of the global industry, with EVs and other zero-emission vehicles overtaking vehicles with internal combustion engines in annual sales by the late 2030s.

The BloombergNEF report also predicted that overall passenger car sales will hit a peak in 2036, as national policies shift in ways that make it easier for people to get by without personal vehicles.

Looking at all of this from the United States, I can see how many people here would scoff at the idea of a 2017 peak in combustion engines and a reduction in personal vehicle use. And within our borders, those trends will almost certainly play out differently. But the United States is diminishing in importance for the auto industry: China passed us in annual auto sales about a decade ago.

Electric vehicle, charging. Credit: Zhang Peng/LightRocket via Getty Images
Credit: Zhang Peng/LightRocket via Getty Images

The transition to EVs is now being driven by China and Europe, which will represent a combined 72 percent of the EV market in 2030, according to the forecast. In China, this is tied to continuing subsidies based on a desire to be a leader in EVs and to reduce air pollution. In Europe, the key driver is emissions rules that are making automakers want to increase their share of EVs.

Within the United States, California stands out for its policies that encourage EVs, and the state has the benefit of being the home base of Tesla, a global leader in EVs.

But employees and shareholders of the Big Three automakers—General Motors, Ford and FCA Group—would be wise to ask if their companies are moving quickly enough to compete in the auto market to come.

This is Huge, Literally. Meet the New King of Offshore Wind Turbines.

Offshore wind turbines keep getting bigger. The latest step in this competition for the largest in the industry is a 14-megawatt turbine from Siemens Gamesa, announced by the company on Tuesday.

The SG 14-222 DD turbine, whose name does not exactly roll off the tongue, is a few steps up from GE’s 12-megawatt Haliade-X turbine, which was introduced in 2018.

The Siemens Gamesa turbine has a rotor diameter of 728 feet, which is about 6 feet more than the GE turbine. That’s more than double the height of the Statue of Liberty, including its base. 

Illustration of 14-megawatt wind turbine. Credit: Siemens Gemesa
Credit: Siemens Gemesa

There is a practical purpose here. Larger blades can produce more electricity, which increases the ability of offshore wind farms to become major parts of the transition to clean energy in the United States and around the world. Offshore wind is crucial because it can deliver power to densely populated coastal areas where there is little room for onshore wind or solar.

“We’ve gone bigger for the better,” said Markus Tacke, CEO of Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy, in a statement.

The company aims to build a prototype before the end of 2021, and to have the turbines available for the market in 2024. (This story from Greentech Media takes a closer look at some of the business factors.)

It is a safe bet that some other company—I’m looking at you GE—will have something even bigger in development by then.

Inside Clean Energy is ICN’s weekly bulletin of news and analysis about the energy transition. Send news tips and questions to

Our journalism is free of charge and available to everyone, thanks to readers like you. In this time of crisis, our fact-based reporting on science, health and the environment is more important than ever. Please support our work by making a donation today.