Solar energy jobs are growing 12 times faster than the US economy
According to a new report, wind turbine technician is the fastest growing profession in the United States.
The growth in wind power is just one example of the rising employment numbers associated with the clean energy and sustainability sector. According to the report, published by the Environmental Defense Fund's Climate Corps program, the industry now has at least 4 million jobs, up from 3.4 million in 2011.
The report estimates that solar and wind jobs are growing at a rate 12 times faster than the rest of the US economy, and suggests that 46% of large firms have hired additional staff to address issues of sustainability over the last two years.
Those impressive gains stand in contrast to Donald Trump's stance on energy. The president has consistently championed eliminating environmental regulations and increasing fossil fuel production as a promising way to bring jobs to America.
"Trump's current approach is basically ignoring an entire industry that has grown up over the last 10 years or so and is quite robust," Liz Delaney, program director at EDF Climate Corps, tells Business Insider.
According to the EDF report, however, the compound annual growth rate of employment in the fossil fuel industry (a measurement of average amount of increase per year) was -4.5% between 2012 and 2015. Renewable energy jobs had a rate of 6% during that period. Oil and gas production jobs increased in November 2016 for the first time in two years, following a slump caused by low oil prices. The average number of employees at US coal mines dropped by 12% in 2015, according to the EIA.
When it comes to electricity generation in the US, the Department of Energy's 2017 Energy and Employment Report suggests that the solar industry now employs more people than coal, oil and gas combined. Oil still employs the largest share when including jobs related to fuels, however.
"Our findings would lead us to believe that the right place to invest dollars are in renewable energy rather than fossil fuels," Delaney says. "These jobs are widely geographically distributed, they're high paying, they apply to both manufacturing and professional workers, and there are a lot of them."
Delaney says one of the most surprising findings of the EDF report is that 70% of the 2.2 million Americans who work in jobs related to energy efficiency are employed by companies with 10 employees or less.
"What we're talking about here are American small businesses," she says, adding that because many sustainability jobs involve installation, maintenance and construction, they're harder to outsource.
Although federal subsidies and tax credits have helped foster the growth of solar and wind power in the US - thereby adding jobs in those industries - much of the trend is due to the falling prices of both technologies. The EDF's report suggests the cost of production for solar PV panels dropped 72% between 2010 and 2015, making solar power much more competitive in the energy market. Solar deployment, consequently, has expanded tenfold since 2010, from 876 to 10,727 megawatts installed annually.
It's possible that Trump's promises to scale back environmental regulation and cut research in renewables might add new fossil fuel industry jobs and even curtain growth in the sustainability sector, but market forces suggest it would be very difficult to stop the overall trend towards renewables. The DOE's Energy and Employment Report predicts that energy efficiency employment will have a 9% growth rate over the next 12 months - higher than any other energy sector.
"I think it's really all about speed of transition," Delaney says. "I think the transition will continue, but there's a role that the federal government can play in supporting that, which is significant."
If the federal government abandons that role in order to boost the fossil fuels industry, she says, the US will be giving up a tremendous growth opportunity.
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