Moniz unveils report showing surge in energy efficiency jobs

Source: Christa Marshall, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, May 17, 2018

The American energy sector added 133,000 jobs last year, with more than half of them in energy efficiency, according to study released today by former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and the National Association of State Energy Officials.

Moniz’s think tank, the Energy Futures Initiative, and NASEO produced the “U.S. Energy and Employment Report” after the Trump administration scrapped plans to have the Energy Department lead the analysis (E&E News PM, Dec. 1, 2017).

The report tallies energy jobs data not otherwise available in federal studies, including details on transportation, renewables and fossil fuel employment.

Overall, the energy sector employed 6.5 million people last year and accounted for nearly 7 percent of all new U.S. jobs, the report says.

“This report, as its predecessors were, is really a foundation, a starting point … for doing all kinds of crosscuts and analysis that different businesses, states and others will use going forward,” Moniz said this morning at the Washington launch with Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and others.

The report categorizes jobs in four broad areas: electric power generation and fuels; transmission, distribution and storage; energy efficiency; and motor vehicles. It also breaks down data by state to reflect regional trends.

Energy efficiency’s growth rate was about twice the national average, with 67,000 jobs added last year.

“Since no one had studied this industry before with a direct survey, it provided the first-ever look at what’s going on,” the report says.

David Foster, a distinguished associate at the Energy Futures Initiative, said multiple factors are creating job demand in efficiency, including state standards and federal requirements on products set by DOE. The report covers a range of efficiency jobs involving building retrofits and technologies, including those involved in the installation and manufacture of products certified by EPA’s Energy Star Program, which Trump has targeted for elimination.

In electricity, combined heat and power employment saw the highest growth rate year over year of 55 percent, adding 9,000 jobs. Jobs in natural gas generation also surged in 2017 by 19,000 new jobs, as the fuel source remained the top fuel for electricity by capacity. Wind jobs grew by just under 6 percent.

The jobs picture was not rosy across the board.

The most surprising statistic in the report was the decline in jobs in alternative-fuel vehicles, including hybrids and electric vehicles, the groups said. Those jobs fell to 220,000 from 259,000 in the previous year.

The slump occurred even though sales of plug-in and electric vehicles increased by more than 25 percent last year. However, U.S.-manufactured vehicles declined, while sales of foreign-made products increased, reducing U.S. jobs overall.

Energy industries also are generally less diverse than the national workforce, with women filling 23 to 32 percent of jobs. By comparison, women in all fields constitute almost half of national jobs. Racial minorities also work in energy fields at percentages lower than the national average.

Seventy percent of employers reported difficulty in hiring qualified workers.

“We have had a general ‘skills gap’ in American labor markets for some time now,” Foster said. “My general view is that it reflects an overall disinvestment in skills training, particularly in the secondary and two-year college and apprentice systems in the U.S.”

Job losses in solar, stagnation in coal power

The solar industry saw its first job loss since data were collected in 2010, with employment falling to 350,000 individuals.

Earlier this year, the Solar Foundation reported that the 2017 drop resulted from a letdown after an earlier surge because of tax credit uncertainty (Energywire, Feb. 7).

The report also cites the Trump administration’s solar tariffs and market saturation for residential solar as challenges.

Other findings:

  • The electric power generation and fuels sector employed 1.9 million people, an increase of 15,000 jobs. Within that, 1.1 million work in coal, oil and gas.
  • Employment in coal-fired power generation stayed flat at 92,000 jobs, while coal mining increased slightly.
  • Jobs tied to motor vehicles, outside of auto dealerships, employed more than 2.4 million people.
  • Energy efficiency jobs in construction declined but were more than offset by growth in efficiency jobs elsewhere.
  • The number of jobs tied to battery storage grew 12 percent.
  • Firms anticipate a more than 6 percent job increase this year.

Moniz said he wasn’t surprised by the coal numbers, since “market forces” continue to provide challenges for the industry. State, city and business policies continue to create momentum for jobs even though there is not an economywide approach on carbon, he said.

Previous versions of the report were released by DOE in 2016 and 2017 after a recommendation from the department’s Quadrennial Energy Review.

The idea was to give a more detailed picture of energy jobs beyond existing federal studies. The Bureau of Labor Statistics, for instance, doesn’t provide job breakdowns for industries such as solar and wind, and does not specify whether many jobs in areas like construction are tied to energy.

DOE didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Along with NASEO and the Energy Futures Initiative, several states and groups funded the report, including Advanced Energy Economy, the Solar Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Barr Foundation.

An EFI spokesman said the plan is to produce reports in future years. The groups followed the same methodology as used by DOE, and conducted a randomized survey of more than 380,000 businesses.

Moniz launched the Energy Futures Initiative last year with other DOE officials to advance energy technologies and research ideas for “deep carbonization” (Greenwire, June 21, 2017).