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Clean energy sector down almost half a million jobs due to COVID

Most reports had predicted that the clean energy industry, which encompasses Energy Efficiency, Renewables, Clean Vehicles, Grid & Storage and Clean Fuels, would add more 175,000 jobs in 2020, but with the pandemic, the sector is now approaching the end of the year down 477,862 jobs as a stalled recovery plagues the sector.

The sector did add 12,500 jobs in September, however an analysis prepared for E2 (Environmental Entrepreneurs), E4TheFuture and the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) by BW Research Partnership shows that 14% of the pre-covid workforce is still unemployed.

Despite growing two times faster than the overall economy since 2017, the clean energy sector has been particularly slow to rebound compared to the nation’s overall jobs recovery. Jobs in clean energy grew by less than half a percent for the third time in four months and just one out of every five clean energy jobs lost between March and May has come back, according to the monthly report. The slow growth is consistent nationwide; no state saw more than a 0.7% increase in employment in September, with 23 states and the District of Columbia adding fewer than 100 jobs each. 

In 2018 and 2019, clean energy created about 190,000 new jobs nationwide. Before the coronavirus pandemic, employers projected that more than 175,000 jobs would be added in 2020, according to the 2020 U.S. Energy & Employment Report (USEER) employer survey.

Before COVID-19, nearly 3.4 million Americans across all 50 states and the District of Columbia worked in clean energy occupations, which is more people than work in real estate, banking or agriculture in the U.S., and three times the number of Americans that worked in fossil fuels, according to E2’s Clean Jobs America report.

Gregory Wetstone, President and CEO of the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE), said that the pandemic “continues to roil the renewable energy workforce.” He added that he would like to see the U.S congress to make the renewable energy tax credits temporarily refundable “so that projects can continue to be built in spite of a COVID-constrained tax equity market.” He would also like to see “a delay in the scheduled phasedown of existing credits in recognition of the adverse nationwide impact the pandemic has had on the renewable sector this year.”

Monthly Clean Energy Job Losses by Sector:

Sector Mar.  April  May  June  July Aug. Sep. Total 
EE -103,298 -309,584 -18,880 +71,786 +6,836 +8,116 +8,354 -336,670
Renewables -23,739 -71,705 -4,272 +17,287 +1,918 +2,571 +2,273 -75,669
Clean Vehicles -11,399 -35,070 -2,059 +10,335 +896 +2,182 +965 -34,151
Grid & Storage -6,517 -19,666 -1,166 +4,561 +428 +482 +510 -21,368
Clean Fuels -2,186 -10,390 -657 +2,351 +296 +205 +378 -10,004
TOTAL -147,139 -446,416 -27,035 +106,320 +10,373 +13,556 +12,479 -477,862

State Clean Energy Unemployment by Total Losses:

State Total Losses Percent of Clean Energy Workforce
California 81,826 14.9%
Georgia 26,899 31.2%
Florida 25,166 15.0%
Michigan 23,341 17.6%
Texas 22,669 9.2%
North Carolina 19,533 17.0%
Pennsylvania 17,883 18.4%
Washington 17,693 19.9%
Ohio 15,519 13.4%
New York 14,865 9.1%

For expanded state and county findings, download the full report here

State and Sector Impacts

Energy efficiency continued to lead clean energy job growth in September, adding over 8,000 jobs. It was followed by renewable energy (2,273) and clean vehicles (965). No sector grew by more than 0.4%.

More than 40 states still suffer double-digit unemployment in clean energy, with six states seeing unemployment of 20% or more. Georgia continues to have the highest rate, with over 31% of its clean energy workforce still unemployed, followed by Kentucky at 28%. North Carolina led all states with the highest percentage of workforce growth at 0.7% while California again saw the largest total increase in jobs with 2,600 positions added (0.6%). No other state added over 1,000 clean energy jobs; only New York, Texas, and Illinois added more than 600. Ten states added fewer than 50 jobs each. 

The data analyzed for this report did not include workers who had their work hours slashed and are now significantly underemployed.