Clean energy industry may lose 15% of workforce

Source: By Kristin Musulin, Utility Dive • Posted: Sunday, April 19, 2020

  •  More than 106,000 clean energy jobs were eliminated in the month of March due to the novel coronavirus outbreak, according to an analysis of unemployment data by BW Research Partnership and E2. The layoffs reflect a 3% drop in overall industry employment.
Clean energy sector No. of jobs lost
Energy efficiency 69,800
Renewable energy 16,500
Clean vehicles 12,300
Grid & clean storage 4,300
Clean fuels 3,400
  • The layoffs come as hundreds of clean energy-related manufacturing plants — for production of electric vehicles (EVs), building materials, solar/wind power infrastructure and more — have closed to prevent the spread of the virus. The states to see the largest drops in clean energy employment are Hawaii (6.4%), Pennsylvania (6.2%) and North Carolina (5.9%), while California lost the most clean energy jobs overall (19,949).
  • Researchers project the industry may lose up to 500,000 jobs, or 15% of its workforce, during the remainder of the pandemic if actions aren’t taken to support clean energy.

Dive Insight:

A spike in layoffs is certainly not unique to the clean energy industry. More than 10.6 million U.S. residents filed for unemployment in March due to the coronavirus pandemic and related economic crisis, marking a record number of inquiries. The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis estimates the number of people seeking unemployment could reach over 52 million in the second quarter of 2020.

“[T]he data pretty clearly indicate that this is just the beginning,” Phil Jordan, vice president and principal at BW Research Partnership, said in a statement.

These layoffs impact not only the well-being of employees and their families, but also the growth that the clean energy industry had seen over the last few years. In early 2020, before the coronavirus spread to the U.S., clean energy employment increased for the fifth straight year to employ more than 3.3 million workers nationwide (accounting for 40% of the entire U.S. energy workforce), according to E2.

Such growth is now threatened by stay-at-home orders, revenue losses and a general sense of uncertainty about the future of the U.S. economy. To curb this threat to clean energy, industry leaders are calling on Congress to extend deadlines on relevant projects that qualify for tax incentives; provide temporary refundability for renewable tax credits; and financially support cleantech sectors in upcoming stimulus bills.

In a recent interview, Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI) CEO Matt Petersen told Smart Cities Dive that continued federal investments in cleantech and related clean energy jobs will be crucial to protect populations from future catastrophes, including a potential recurrence of a coronavirus outbreak.

“It’s just unfortunate that there’s a political divide that sees things in black and white in regard to this, but we know that the science around the pandemic we’re facing, it was proven right,” he said. “We know the climate science is right. So how do we align our priorities to move in this direction so that we don’t end up with an ongoing set of continued disasters? It’s critical for public health, economic growth and much more.”

The recently passed Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which outlined $2 trillion in stimulus relief to aid the U.S. economy, did not include any funding for the cleantech or clean energy sectors.