Yes, Green Jobs Are Real

In researching for my series on jobs in renewable energy in the U.S., I turned up some very interesting information.  First, it’s clear that clean energy is creating jobs.  In 2010, the solar industry created 50,00 jobs according to the first ever national solar jobs census that was conducted by The Solar Foundation, Green LMI, Cornell University and others.  In total there are 93,000 people employed in the solar industry right now.

The geothermal industry, too, is ramping up hard.  As a whole, the industry expects to add almost 3000 jobs next year.  For the past year and a half or so geothermal project developers have been finding lands to lease, collecting permits, arranging financing and generally getting their ducks in a row so that the real work of developing geothermal energy projects could begin.  Now, in 2011, it is set to start.

They hydro energy industry – the largest of the renewables – accounts for 200,000 to 300,000 workers right now and could grow to millions should the U.S. adopt a strong renewable electricity standard, according to Navigant Consulting. 

You can read my full report on renewable energy workforce developments on soon.  The manufacturing installment is here.

When you read it you will see that of the five renewable energy technologies – solar, geothermal, wind, bioenergy and hydro – only one, wind, experienced a slowdown in 2010.  The rest are growing and unequivocally adding jobs.

And yet there remains a perception that clean energy is NOT creating jobs as it promised that it would.  Here are some reasons why I think this is happening.

First, there are 30 million people looking for jobs in the U.S. right now.  That number includes the 10 percent of Americans officially unemployed plus the Americans that have been out of work for so long that they have given up looking plus the Americans that have accepted part-time jobs but wish they were working full-time, often called “underemployed.”  It seems that everyone has at least one personal friend or family menber who was laid off in the past 24 months. 

That might be why adding 50,000 solar jobs in one year can easily go unnoticed when it is up against a number as vast as 30 million.  It seems to me that in many ways the unemployment problem is just too big for clean energy to solve alone.

Second, I want to address the issue that I have heard often that you can’t define green jobs and they therefore don’t exist.  First of all, anyone who does anything involving renewable energy, has a green job.  Making energy without emissions from something that is replenished naturally in the world is about as green of a job as you can get. We can quibble about installation workers, utility personnel and recycling center attendants if you wish, but in my book if you are part of the making, buying, selling or installing of equipment that makes energy from the sun, wind, water, forests or other agricultural feedstocks, you have a green job.

But guess who hasn’t defined renewable energy jobs yet or even classified them as an industry?  The Bureau of Labor Statistics. The BLS has statistics for the following industries involving producing energy from fossil fuels: Mining, Quarrying, and Oil and Gas Extraction, Petroleum and Coal Products Manufacturing, Gasoline Stations, Support Activities for Mining, and Support Activities for Transportation. The BLS even has job numbers for industries like Couriers and Messengers and Lessors of Nonfinancial Intangible Assets (whatever that is!).  But there are currently no statistics on jobs involving renewable energy equipment, installation, financing, operations and management, etc.  No doubt this is due to the fact the renewable energy industry is still young and hasn’t been around long enough for the bureaucrats to start to tally the numbers, but I wonder how big the industry needs to get before the government begins to count it as an industry. 

So another reason for claims that green jobs don’t exist:  it is hard to stand up and be counted when you just don’t count, at least according to the U.S. government.

Finally, Rhone Resch of the Solar Energy Industries Association offered me yet a third perspective on why even though renewable energy is creating jobs, no one is noticing.  He thinks it is the active fossil fuel lobby spending large amounts of money to discredit the renewable energy industry and convince the American public that green jobs are a farce.  He said, “The fossil fuel industry sees solar, wind and other renewables as a threat and they have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into lobbying and advertising to distort the record on green jobs.”  You can read more on Resch’s appeal for a more direct head to head approach against the fossil-fuel lobby in my last blog, “Solar Power VS Fossil Fuels: Game On.

So even if it is a case of the unemployment problem being too large for any one industry to make a dent in it or an oversight by the government or an active campaign to misrepresent gains made by renewables in general, let’s be clear on just this one thing.  The numbers don’t lie: green jobs do exist and at the rate they are growing pretty soon someone you know may have one.

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Jennifer Runyon has been studying and reporting about the world's transition to clean energy since 2007. As editor of the world's largest renewable energy publication, Renewable Energy World, she observed, interviewed experts about, and reported on major clean energy milestones including Germany's explosive growth of solar PV, the formation and development of the U.S. onshore wind industry, the U.K. offshore wind boom, China's solar manufacturing dominance, the rise of energy storage, the changing landscape for utilities and grid operators and much, much, more. Today, in addition to managing content on POWERGRID International, she also serves as the conference advisory committee chair for DISTRIBUTECH, a globally recognized conference for the transmission and distribution industry. You can reach her at

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