THE BLOG

Expanding Renewable Energies, Expanding Job Prospects?

06/19/2014 05:59 pm ET | Updated Aug 19, 2014

Tatyana, 21, studied international business at Baruch College in New York City. When she started out her business education, she never would have expected ending up in the renewable energy industry. She remembers enjoying her high school environmental classes and recently decided, once she had graduated, that the environmental sector was not only a promising field, but also something she knew she was passionate about. This drive led Tatyana to her current employment in the clean technology industry, which she has come to realize is both a profitable and personally rewarding field.

On June 2, 2014, The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, under President Obama's Climate Action Plan, proposed an initial guideline to cut carbon pollution from existing power plants, currently the biggest carbon polluters in the United States (at roughly one-third of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions in the country). The Clean Power Plan is flexible and holds great potential for job creation in the sustainable sector. This plan could be the economic push needed to help new graduates like Tatyana or anyone else searching the job market for a second chance.

Expanding renewable energy sources

Under the Clean Power Plan, states must diversify their energy sources and utilize solar (photovoltaic and solar thermal), wind, geothermal, sustainable sourced biomass, biogas and low-impact hydrology in order to reduce their carbon emissions. Beyond the significant benefits for our climate and health, the potential economic benefits may also be substantial because renewable energy technologies are typically more labor-intensive than intensely mechanized fossil fuel technologies.

In 2011, the solar foundation reported that the solar industry employed over 100,000 workers in jobs that ranged from solar installation or manufacturing to sales. Solar jobs grew by 20 percent in 2013 and 2014 is expected to witness the creation of 22,000 jobs; these statistics were reported before the EPA plan was released, which should provide the national encouragement needed to boost the renewable job sector even more.

As for wind energy, the amount of domestically manufactured equipment used in wind turbines has jumped from 35 percent in 2006 to 70 percent in 2011 with 560 factories directly employing 75,000 full-time employees.

The hydroelectric power industry employed 250,000 people in 2009 and if the hydropower industry were to install a new capacity of 23,000-MW-60,000MW by 2025, the total amount of jobs required to meet that target could generate as many as 700,000 jobs.

In 2010 the geothermal industry directly employed 5,200 people. Back in 2009 The Union of Concerned Scientists estimated that a national, renewable electricity standard that would seek to cut 25 percent of carbon emissions by 2025 would generate 297,000 jobs, $263.4 billion in new capital investment and $95.5 billion in lower electricity by 2030; and now we have the EPA is seeking to cut 30 percent of emissions by 2030...

These numbers merely scratch the surface of the economic benefits of an expansion of renewable energy sources because they do not take into account the jobs that are generated by indirect and induced employment. A few examples of the former include architects, equipment service personnel, geologists, business management personnel, and security guards. Induced employment refers to jobs that are created to serve the workers, subcontractors and others that are accounted for in direct or indirect employment.

Demand‐side energy efficiency programs

Demand-side energy efficiency entails consuming less power to perform the same tasks while incentivizing consumers to modify their energy usage during off-peak hours. These programs represent one way for states to minimize electrical power loss during transmission. Companies offering engineering efficiency consultation services, energy audits and system performance analysis services such as Lincus, or RHA can all benefit from this measure. Since demand side management spending reached a record $9.6 billion in 2013 in both the U.S. and Canada, it wouldn't be crazy to speculate even further growth due to the Clean Power Plan.

As Tatyana pleasantly discovered, the parallel development of the energy efficiency educational market expedites this growth. With online programs facilitating access to education, many workers such as recent graduate Tatyana, are using remote training providers to obtain energy efficiency training or solar training to gain access to this sustainable workforce boom.

What Else?

The EPA additionally suggests other measures which could stimulate the domestic job market:

• Improving efficiency at plants
• Expanding Nuclear
• Transmission efficiency improvements
• Energy storage technology

The Clean Power Plan can be seen as an opportunity to not only improve the nation's carbon pollution and increase health security, but also to inject growth into our stalling economy. With the U.S. currently experiencing an economic slowdown, an unnerving unemployment rate and a national debt register expecting to reach $20.0 trillion by the end of this decade, something needs to change. The Clean Power Plan is one potential solution. Shall we grasp at that opportunity or wait until something better comes along?