Coronavirus crushed U.S. clean energy workforce in 2020; 400K-plus jobs still lost

Map courtesy CDC (Centers for Disease Control).

The COVID-19 pandemic has not only devastated the U.S. health care system, but it’s taken a long-lasting direct hit on the nation’s once healthy clean energy industry.

A new report by BW Research Partnership indicates that the 2020 clean energy workforce dropped to its lowest numbers in five years. More than 429,000 workers (or 12 percent of the sector’s pre-coronavirus workforce) were still unemployed after cutbacks.

Before COVID-19, nearly 3.4 million Americans across all 50 states and the District of Columbia worked in clean energy occupations, including renewable energy, energy efficiency, grid modernization, clean vehicles and fuels. That’s 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.

See more of our coverage on COVID-19’s impact on the power generation sector

BW Research Partnership analyzed the latest federal unemployment filings to compile the downturn statistics. It was prepared for E2 (Environmental Entrepreneurs), E4The Future and the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE).

“Clean energy had been one of the nation’s fastest growing sectors over the past five years, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Phil Jordan, vice president at BW Research Partnership, said in a statement. “In addition to clawing back the jobs we lost in 2020, we need to help the sector return to growth mode and get back to creating economic opportunities for more Americans in 2021.”

See this POWERGEN webcast on handling the workforce during the pandemic

Thirty-eight states and the District of Columbia are still suffering double-digit unemployment in clean energy, with 12 states experiencing unemployment of 15% or more. Georgia continues to have the highest rate, with over 30% of its clean energy workforce still unemployed, followed by Kentucky at 27%.

 In December, Hawaii had the sector’s highest growth rate at 1.2% while California again saw the largest total increase in jobs with 3,300 positions added (0.7%). Florida, Illinois, New York, North Carolina, and Texas all added more than 600 jobs, while 15 states added fewer than 100 each.

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Since the pandemic-spurred unemployment crisis began in the U.S., 70 percent of the jobs lost in the clean energy sector have yet to be recovered, according to the report. At the rate of recovery since June, it would take about two and a half years for the clean energy sector to reach pre-COVID employment levels.

“The new year, a new administration and a new Congress bring new hope for federal action revitalizing our economy and our environment with a clean energy focused recovery,” said Bob Keefe, Executive Director of E2. “The need to act is clear: We just lived through the costliest year ever for climate disasters. And facing the largest economic downturn since 2009, we know we’ve only scratched the surface when it comes to jobs and other economic benefits that come with clean energy.”

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