First-ever energy jobs report finds solar, efficiency surge

Source: Christa Marshall, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Solar energy and energy efficiency firms are predicting strong hiring growth over the next year, according to a new federal report assessing national employment in multiple energy sectors.

The first-ever analysis from the Department of Energy reports a swirl of numbers on how U.S. energy trends are affecting national employment. It finds, for example, that energy employers are having a difficult time finding qualified workers, and that minorities and women remain underrepresented in energy jobs when it comes to their overall numbers.

The energy sector broadly also is boosting the construction industry, providing about 30 percent of jobs overall.

DOE found that 3.64 million Americans work in “traditional” energy industries, including in the electricity sector and in transmission, distribution and storage jobs. Of that total, about 600,000 people work with “low-carbon” generation like renewables, nuclear and natural gas.

There are about 1.6 million people employed in electric power generation and fuels, with about 60 percent of employment focused on fossil fuels. About a third of those jobs are in mining and extraction industries, DOE said.

DOE assessed employment in four sectors: electric power generation and fuels; transmission, wholesale distribution and storage; energy efficiency; and motor vehicles.

“This report gives an important snapshot of energy employment in America, and subsequent reports will provide better information to guide policies and priorities that create new jobs, appropriately train workers and promote a successful national energy policy,” said David Foster, senior adviser on energy and industrial policy at DOE.

The report stemmed in part from difficulties in counting energy jobs the old way, considering the growth in new industries like hydraulic fracturing. Energy efficiency jobs, for example, are a relatively new category because of growth in building retrofits and installation of products associated with U.S. EPA’s Energy Star program.

About 1.9 million people work in the energy efficiency sector, according to DOE. The sector is projecting 260,000 new hires this year and a 14 percent growth rate — more than double the rate for employment in electric power generation and fuels. Currently, most employment is occurring at construction firms involved with installing efficient building equipment.

Solar energy firms — which currently employ about 300,000 Americans — are projecting a 15 percent growth rate this year.

Additionally, there are more than 2 million workers employed in DOE’s “electric power and fuel transmission, distribution and storage” category. About 17 percent are employed by construction companies working on pipeline and related infrastructure. About 915,000 people work at gasoline stations, DOE said.

Within motor vehicles, there are about 2.4 million workers, with most focused on “repair, maintenance and manufacture” of vehicles. DOE did not count people working at auto dealerships.

About three-quarters of employers reported difficulty hiring employees in all sector categories. Ethnic and racial minorities constitute about a quarter of energy workers, compared to the national average of 34 percent, DOE said. Women make up about 18 to 26 percent of energy workers.

“Veterans, however, comprise about one in ten workers, higher than the national average,” the report states.

Researchers tapped a range of data, including from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the BW Research Partnership. DOE said it would be providing annual surveys of energy employment.

Click here to read the report.