Solar jobs have grown 20 percent a year since 2012; coal, not so much
Here’s a little quiz on a topic much discussed over the past couple of years: jobs.
How many people work in the U.S. coal industry? Not just miners, but office staff, too.
And, how many people work for solar-energy companies in the U.S.?
Coal mining was a mainstay of the energy industry in the U.S. and around the world, used to generate electricity for more than a century.
In the U.S., according to Department of Energy employment data, about 160,000 people worked in the coal industry last year. Only 77,000 of them were miners; the rest were office workers.
By comparison, solar companies employ about 370,000 people, most of them as installers and maintenance workers.
The wind power industry adds another 102,000 jobs, by the way.
So renewable energy provides almost three times as many jobs to U.S. workers as the coal industry does.
Moreover, jobs in clean energy are growing at a steady pace—20 percent annually for solar jobs since 2012—and have for several years. The coal industry, not so much.
Under certain circumstances, large-scale solar energy projects and wind farms are now cost-competitive with even the newest and most efficient natural-gas electricity generating plants.
This has radically altered the economics of the electric utility industry, which is used to planning cycles for its generation plants of as long as 50 years.
The resulting questions are hard: in which kinds of energy should utilities invest capital, and—given the urgency of climate change, carbon-reduction policies in many states, and continued technology improvements—what will provide the cheapest and most reliable power 10, 20, and 30 years from now?
But it’s clear that the jobs for working-class Americans are not in coal. Given increasing automation in coal mining using the controversial “mountaintop removal” technique, nor is any growth in coal usage likely to lead to notable job increases.
The policies of the current Administration have now begun to worry some of the solar workers, as a recent article in The Washington Post points out.