Clean Energy Jobs Are Booming, Making Up For Rising Fossil Fuel Unemployment


Memo to job-seekers: The United States’ clean energy industry is hiring, faster than the overall national economy, and it’s paying above-average wages.

The 2022 US Energy and Employment Report (USEER), released by the US Department of Energy, details dramatic growth across every major clean energy occupation – especially in the electric vehicle industry. Meanwhile most of the fossil fuel industry continued losing jobs, even as the economy roared back from its COVID-induced downturn.

Overall energy sector jobs rose 4% in 2021, adding more than 300,000 jobs to reach more than 7.8 million total energy-related jobs. US energy sector job growth outpaced overall US jobs growth, which rose 2.8% in 2021.

Nearly 3.1 million of the total energy sector jobs are in net-zero aligned industries, composing 41% of total energy jobs. Net-zero aligned jobs are related to renewable energy, grid technologies, transmission and distribution, energy storage, nuclear energy, biofuels, energy efficiency, and electric vehicles.

“Amidst the unique challenges of a nation coming out of a global pandemic, America’s energy sector stands out with considerable job growth across nearly all industries,” said US Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm. “Jobs critical to our clean energy transition are on the rise and poised for continued expansion.”

Clean energy technologies—like wind turbines, solar panels, and electric vehicles—offer a bright spot for the US manufacturing sector if the federal government continues implementing emissions reduction policies, and particularly if the US Senate passes proposed reconciliation legislation. Adding jobs in these industries will boost our economic competitiveness in a 21st century global clean energy economy while fighting climate change.

Clean energy, electrified vehicles lead job growth

USEER covers all jobs in the professional operations, construction, utility operations, and production associated with energy infrastructure and use – including motor vehicle manufacturing. Energy sector jobs were one of the fastest-growing sectors of the US economy before the COVID pandemic, which cost it nearly 840,000 jobs.

But rebounding energy sector job growth is not even distributed. While the electric power generation sector grew 2.9% led by solar and wind energy, coal and nuclear jobs both declined. Fuel sector jobs – particularly in extraction – tumbled 3.1% with the petroleum sector shedding 31,600 jobs for the largest total job losses of any sector, and the coal fuel sector losing 7,100 jobs for the largest percentage loss of any sector at 11.8%.

Motor vehicle and component parts manufacturing was the standout sector in 2021, adding 228,000 jobs, a 9.8% annual gain. Hybrid electric, battery electric, plug-in hybrid, and hydrogen fuel cell manufacturing comprised 65,000 of the sector’s total job growth. These jobs in carbon-reducing vehicle manufacturing grew a collective 25% in 2021, and were the only subcategory of energy jobs that did not decrease in 2020 due to COVID.

Clean energy jobs offer higher wages than the national average, and are widely available to workers without four-year degrees, meaning most Americans can access them. Brookings Institution research finds landing a clean energy job that can equal an 8%-19% income increase, and 45% of all workers in clean energy production only have a high school diploma, while earning higher wages than similarly educated peers in other industries.

Wind turbine technician and solar photovoltaic installers are forecast by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics to be two of the top five fastest-growing occupations through 2030. Wind turbine technician jobs are expected to grow 68% and pay more than $56,000 per year, while solar installer jobs are expected to grow 52% and pay nearly $48,000 per year.

Energy sector jobs also enjoy higher union representation than the overall economy, with 10% of the energy workforce represented by a union or covered under a project labor agreement compared to 6% within the private sector.

States with strong climate policies see high job growth

USEER also reports state-level job growth, and the states that set clear clean energy policy and investments are reaping rewards.

Michigan added 35,500 new energy jobs, pacing the country, totaling more than 390,000 jobs. This growth was powered by motor vehicle jobs, spurred by the US auto industry’s strategic investments in electric vehicles. Michigan Governor Whitmer established an economywide net zero by 2050 goal in 2020, just the fourth nationwide, heavily focused on transitioning from coal power to renewable energy with dramatic electric vehicle infrastructure investments.

California ranked third in total new energy jobs, adding nearly 30,000 new positions. This growth was fueled by about 11,000 new jobs in carbon-reducing motor vehicle manufacturing. Jobs in the state’s electric vehicle industry pay an average of more than $91,000, well above California’s average annual wage of $60,400. This growth has been fueled by the state’s ambitious zero-emission vehicle target of all new car sales being zero-emission by 2035.

Expanding federal climate policies could create millions of new jobs

That relationship between clear policy to reduce emissions through a clean energy transition is backed up at the national level, and could be supercharged by enacting federal policies to hit net-zero targets.

While the Biden administration has gone further on this front than any other administration in history, truly transforming our economy and creating millions of new jobs depends on the US Senate proposal passing legislation. As the clean energy industry expands, strong labor standards and prevailing wage guarantees can ensure new jobs are equitable, while investing in fossil fuel-dependent communities can help workers transition to stable careers.

Energy Innovation modeling of the US Nationally Determined Contribution to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, which would push nationwide emissions to near net zero through a combination of economywide policies, would create more than 3.2 million new jobs by 2030 and nearly 5 million new jobs by 2050 while increasing annual GDP 2.4% in 2050.

Modeling of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) which was signed into law by President Biden, and reconciliation legislation which is still under consideration by the US Senate, showed the combined bills would create up to 638,000 new jobs in 2030. These jobs would be concentrated in manufacturing, construction, and job creation.

USEER notes the IIJA’s impacts have not yet been felt, but predicts the more than $63 billion in energy sector funding that would help expand clean technology deployment and transition fossil fuel-dependent communities and workers. Still, policies and investments contained in the reconciliation legislation would contribute the largest share of these long-term jobs, underlining how important passage in the US Senate would be to US economic growth.

Modeling also shows that transitioning to all electric vehicle sales, which the reconciliation legislation could help jump start, would be a job engine. Research shows that pushing to reach 100% all-electric new car and truck sales by 2035 across the US would support more than 2 million jobs in 2035.

Federal and state governments have shown that setting clear policies like emissions reduction goals, clean energy deployment targets, stable tax incentives, clean energy infrastructure investments, and workforce transition will fight climate change while creating jobs and strengthening the economy.

Expanding clean energy can keep our economy growing – if policymakers invest in our future by enacting smart climate policies.

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