Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘green jobs’

Pew clean energy report

graphic: The Pew Charitable Trusts

Clean energy jobs grew 9.1% over the past decade and now number 770,000 as the green tech economy makes inroads in every U.S. state and outstrips conventional job creation, according to a new study released Wednesday by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Non-green energy jobs, in contrast, grew by 3.7% between 1998 and 2007. The traditional fossil fuel industry employed 1.27 million workers in 2007.

Pew worked with California research firm Collaborative Economics to conduct an actual count of 68,200 businesses engaged in its definition of the clean energy economy — activity that “generates jobs, businesses and investments while expanding clean energy production, increasing energy efficiency, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, waste and pollution, and conserving water and other natural resources.”

Clean energy economy jobs were divided into five sectors: clean energy, energy efficiency, environmentally friendly production, conservation and pollution mitigation, and training and support.

“Americans are struggling to get a sense of the nation’s economic future,” Lori Grange, interim deputy director of the Pew Center on the States, said on a conference call Wednesday morning.  “The nation’s clean energy economy is poised for explosive growth.”

“It just isn’t California,” she added. “Every state has a piece of the clean energy economy.”

Nevertheless, California remains a clean-energy unto itself and boasted 125,390 jobs generated by 10,209 green businesses in 2007. The Golden State, not surprisingly, attracted $6.6 billion in venture capital funding between 2006 and 2008, six times the amount captured by the runner-up, Massachusetts. Startups focused on clean energy and energy efficiency scored 80% of venture capital investments. California also led in clean energy patents, with 1,401 granted between 1998 and 2007 compared to New York’s 909.

California, however, is getting a run for its money from Oregon, Colorado and other states. Oregon had one of the fastest rates of clean energy job creation and those jobs accounted for the highest percentage of overall employment compared to other states — between .82% and 1.02%.

And Texas, for instance, is the world’s sixth-largest producer of wind energy, Pew researchers said.

The report’s patent numbers offer one indication of where the clean energy economy is headed. Between 1999 and 2008, batteries accounted for 46.6% of the patents while fuel cells took 25.6%. Solar had 8.7% of all clean energy patents and wind had 5%.  However, the growth rate in battery patents fell 33% between 1999 and 2008 while fuel cell patents jumped 96% and hybrid system patents grew 147%. Solar patents fell 15% as wind patents grew 155%.

The average annual salaries for clean energy jobs ranged from $21,000 to $111,000, according to the Pew report.

State policies requiring renewable energy production and energy efficiency measures have played a significant role in driving green energy job growth, the Pew authors said. A map showing regions with the biggest green job growth correlate with a map of states with the strongest renewable energy policies.

Read Full Post »

img_1219

photo: Todd Woody

When Green Wombat offered up as a “talking point” the observation that the wind industry now employs more people than coal mining, the post set off some vociferous chatter in the blogosphere, fueled in part by my inadvertent error of referring to the “coal industry” in a subsequent reference rather than “coal mining.”

Eoin O’Carroll at the The Christian Science Monitor‘s Bright Green Blog called the comparison between 85,000 wind industry jobs and 81,000 coal mining jobs “bogus,” citing sources pegging direct industry-wide employment in coal at 136,000 to 174,000. Other commentators pointed out that wind power currently provides only about 1-2% of the United States’ electricity while coal supplies around 49%, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Fair enough. But let’s add some context. As Salon‘s Andrew Leonard pointed out, “The key takeaway shouldn’t be employment, but growth rates.” Employment in the wind industry grew 70% between 2007 and 2008 as a result of a 50% jump in the amount of installed wind capacity in the United States last year. And this number bears repeating: 42% of all new U.S. electricity generation in 2008 came from wind farms, the equivalent of building 14 600-megawatt coal-fired power plants  – without the environmental devastation that comes from strip-mining and releasing tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. That extraordinary growth in wind power was, until the recession hit, reviving abandoned factories in the industrial Midwest as European turbine makers and their suppliers set up shop close to what has become the world’s largest wind market.

While wind produces a tiny percentage of the country’s total electricity today, the U.S. does not have a national power grid and energy generation varies widely by state. (For instance, in-state coal-fired power plants supplied 86% of Ohio’s electricity in 2006, according to the Energy Department, but only 1.1% of California’s – though the Golden State obtains about 20% of its electricity from out-of-state coal plants, a practice being phased out by its global warming law).

In Texas, wind accounts for 4.9% of the state’s electricity generation, according to the state grid operator.  Last week, Texas regulators announced they would invest $5 billion to expand transmission lines to bring wind power from remote west Texas wind farms to big cities like Dallas and Houston. That $5 billion, no doubt, will also generate quite a few green jobs and trigger even more wind development once the credit crunch eases.

Jon Wellinghoff, the new acting chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, has identified the Great Plains – dubbed the Saudi Arabia of wind – as the prime candidate for a massive power grid project to connect the region’s wind farms to metropolitan regions currently dependent on coal-fired power. Again, such an initiative would generate thousands of jobs. (A 2008 Department of Energy report found that if such transmission hurdles were overcome the nation could obtain as much as 20% of its electricity from wind farms.)

Obviously, coal is not going away any time soon. (And those wind turbines are made of steel, after all.) But with the Obama administration willing to spend billions on a smart power grid to expand green energy production and half the states mandating renewable energy targets – not to mention a looming national cap-and-trade system that would assign a price to the environmental cost of coal-fired electricity – it seems clear which industry will be generating the jobs of the future.

Read Full Post »

img_1214

photo: Todd Woody

Here’s a talking point in the green jobs debate: The wind industry now employs more people than coal mining in the United States.

Wind industry jobs jumped to 85,000 in 2008, a 70% increase from the previous year, according to a report released Tuesday from the American Wind Energy Association. In contrast, the coal industry mining employs about 81,000 workers. (Those figures are from a 2007 U.S. Department of Energy report but coal employment has remained steady in recent years though it’s down by nearly 50% since 1986.) Wind industry employment includes 13,000 manufacturing jobs concentrated in regions of the country hard hit by the deindustrialization of the past two decades.

The big spike in wind jobs was a result of a record-setting 50% increase in installed wind capacity, with 8,358 megawatts coming online in 2008 (enough to power some 2 million homes).  That’s a third of the nation’s total 25,170 megawatts of wind power generation. Wind farms generating more than 4,000 megawatts of electricity were completed in the last three months of 2008 alone.

Another sign that wind power is no longer a niche green energy play: Wind accounted for 42% of all new electricity generation installed last year in the U.S. Power, literally, is shifting from the east to west, to the wind belt of the Midwest, west Texas and the West Coast. Texas continues to lead the country, with 7,116 megawatts of wind capacity but Iowa in 2008 overtook California for the No. 2 spot, with 2,790 megawatts of wind generation. Other new wind powers include Oregon, Minnesota, Colorado and Washington state.

But last year’s record is unlikely to be repeated in 2009 as the global credit crisis delays or scuttles new projects because developers are unable to secure financing for wind farms. Layoffs have already hit turbine makers like Clipper Windpower and Gamesa as well as companies that produce turbine towers, blades and other components.

The Obama administration’s $825 billion stimulus package includes a three-year extension of a key production tax credit that has spurred the wind industry’s expansion. But given the dearth of investors with tax liabilities willing to invest in wind projects in exchange for the credits, the stimulus is unlikely to be stimulating to the industry unless the tax credit is made refundable to developers.

The U.S. wind industry is dominated by European wind developers and turbine makers – General Electric (GE) and Clipper are the only two domestic turbine manufacturers – and those companies’ fortunes rise and fall with the global economy.  As the U.S. market has boomed, European companies have been moving production close to their customers – the percentage of domestically manufactured wind turbine components rose from 30% to 50% between 2005 and 2008, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

Read Full Post »

stirling-dishes

photo: Todd Woody

Fifty-four billion dollars is nothing to sneeze at, of course. That’s the amount in the $825 billion economic stimulus package –  introduced by House Democrats Thursday – set aside for renewable energy, electric car batteries, energy efficiency and other green projects.

It’s a start, but that’s less than 7% of the entire stimulus package (or, about enough to pay for the Iraq war for five months, or somewhat more than what the federal government is spending to bail out Bank of America). The lion’s share of the cash is devoted to smart grid technology and transmission lines, with a second big chunk going toward energy efficiency retrofits of public housing and weatherization of low-income homes.

That’s good news for a host of startups developing smart grid technology. But the the bill does not address the most pressing issue facing renewable energy companies today: the credit crunch has dried up financing just as billions are needed to fund factories and the construction of solar power plants and wind farms that will be connected to smart grids and new transmission lines. In recent weeks, layoffs have hit the solar industry. OptiSolar – a Bay Area thin-film solar startup that’s building a 550-megawatt photovoltaic power plant to supply electricity to utility PG&E (PCG) – reported to have furloughed half its workforce. And according to The Oregonian newspaper,  SpectraWatt, a solar cell maker spun off from chip giant Intel (INTC) last year, has shelved plans for a factory in Hillsboro, Ore.  Friday morning, Kate Galbraith at The New York Times’ Green Inc. blog reported that layoffs have now hit the wind industry.

The retrenchment comes as utilities are counting on solar power plants and wind farms to come online in the next two years to help them meet mandates to obtain a growing percentage of the electricity they sell from renewable sources. In California, for instance, PG&E, Southern California Edison (EIX) and San Diego Gas & Electric (SRE) have signed more than four gigawatts’ worth of contracts for electricity to be produced by large-scale solar power stations that will cost billions to build.

Solar startups rely on a provision that allows them to take a 30% tax credit on the cost of building a power plant. Now most of these companies are startups and have no way to use those tax credits as they’re not profitable. Instead, a solar company must essentially trade the tax credits to a firm that can use them in exchange for cash to finance construction. But investors in these deals have all but disappeared as the financial crisis takes its toll. Which is why solar and wind lobbyists are pushing Congress to make the tax credits “refundable” – meaning those companies that don’t have tax liabilities can trade the credits for cash that can be used to finance power plants. “Due to the recession, projects are now being put on hold, factories are closing and workers face potential layoffs unless Congress refines the tax credits now so they work as originally intended,” said Solar Energy Industries Association CEO Rhone Resch in a statement.

The stimulus package unveiled Thursday undoubtedly will be subject to change, but as written it will boost efforts to modernize and digitize the United States’ aging analog power grid. The bill includes:

  • $11 billion for smart grid research and development, pilot projects and the construction of new transmission lines to connect green energy power plants to the power grid. The government will fund 50% of the cost of utilities’ smart grid investments.
  • $8 billion in loan guarantees for renewable energy transmission projects.
  • $6.9 billion in grants to state and local governments for energy efficiency and carbon reduction programs.
  • $6.7 billion for renovation of federal buildings, of which $6 billion must be used for energy efficiency retrofits.
  • $6.2 billion for home weatherization programs for low-income families.
  • $2.5 billion for energy efficiency retrofits of public housing.
  • $2.4 billion for carbon sequestration – so-called clean coal – demonstration projects.
  • $2 billion for energy efficiency and renewable energy research (which includes $800 million for biomass and $400 million for geothermal research).
  • $2 billion in loan guarantees and grants for advanced vehicle battery research.

The smart grid billions will be a boon to companies like Silver Spring Networks, Gridpoint and eMeter that develop software to allow utilities to monitor and manage electricity use in real-time and provide that data to their customers.  “We think 2009 is going to be a good year for us,” eMeter president Larsh M. Johnson told Green Wombat last month. “We’ve seen continued demand from utilities for our services.”

But the billions for the smart grid can be considered a down payment: According to an estimate by research firm New Energy Finance, the price tag for modernizing the power grid over the next 15 years will be $450 billion.

Read Full Post »