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Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshot

Report: The Clean Energy Economy Employs 4.5 Million Americans


Many in the environmental community sounded alarms during the first week of Donald Trumps presidency.

First, President Trump removed references to climate change from the White House website and replaced them with a statement on his administration’s energy policy that seeks to reduce “burdensome regulations on our energy industry.” Then, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus issued a memorandum that puts a hold on pending or new regulations and might affect almost completed Department of Energy efficiency standards for a number of products, including air conditioners.

Trump’s regulatory freeze stands in contrast with a recent report by the Environmental Defense Fund's Climate Corps. Transitioning to a more environmentally sustainable and energy-efficient economy, the group says, can accomplish an even bigger task on Trump's to-do list: create jobs.

Sustainable energy and energy efficiency employs 4 million to 4.5 million Americans -- and those numbers are poised to increase, Climate Corps says.

A look at the renewable energy sector serves as a good example. Renewable energy employment is “growing rapidly,” Climate Corps says. Solar employment opportunities are growing 12 times faster than the rest of the U.S. economy. And wind turbine technician is the fastest growing profession in the U.S.

American renewable energy jobs had a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6 percent since 2012. Over the past five years, annual growth in oil and gas extraction, coal mining, and processing jobs ranged from 9 percent to 22 percent. But jobs in those sectors have seen an overall decline with a CAGR of -4.25 percent.

Additionally, the renewable energy economy creates more jobs than the fossil fuel industry per dollar invested, says Climate Corps. Investments in renewable energy generate about three times more direct and indirect jobs than comparable investments in fossil fuels.

Of course, all of this job growth stems from the rapid deployment of wind and solar energy in the U.S. And this will only continue as costs fall ever lower: Solar PV panel production costs decreased by 72 percent between 2010 and 2015, which makes solar PV cost-competitive with fossil-fuel generated power in many markets. So it's no surprise that solar deployment expanded tenfold since 2010. America also more than doubled its installed wind capacity from 2009 to 2015. 

Both wind and solar are projected to experience significant growth in the coming decades, owed largely to continued cost reductions. The 2015 congressional extension of the investment tax credit (ITC) is expected to create an additional 220,000 solar jobs by 2023.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicts solar and wind will account for 64 percent of new power generating capacity added globally between now and 2040.

Other sectors in the clean-energy economy are also experiencing significant growth, including energy efficiency.

Increasing investments in building energy efficiency, partly fueled by state and local policies, means the sector now employs about 2.2 million people across the country, a 7 percent increase from 2015. 

Energy-efficiency jobs typically offer good pay and are available to people lacking college degrees. Almost half of all energy-efficiency jobs are held by people with a high school diploma or less, and the average wages are nearly $5,000 above the national median.

The government plays an important role in supporting the growth of clean energy and sustainability markets through policies and programs. Policymakers at all levels of government need to realize that the clean-energy economy creates jobs.

As Liz Delaney, program director of EDF Climate Corps, wrote in a recent blog post: “Efforts to roll back or weaken environmental and energy policies will negatively impact current and future U.S. jobs, while slowing clean energy innovation.”

Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshot

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

Read more stories by Gina-Marie Cheeseman