The energy sector is driving job growth, but not where you think
Wind, gas and storage jobs are all increasing in the energy sector, but the fastest employment growth isn’t coming from the supply side, according to the 2018 U.S. Energy and Employment Report. It’s energy efficiency that’s creating the most opportunities, the new analysis concludes in an examination of four energy-focused sectors of the U.S. economy.
The traditional energy and energy efficiency sectors, which employ about 6.5 million Americans, saw a 2% increase in jobs in 2017, or about 133,000 new positions, according to the report. A closer look at the numbers reveals they largely mirror utility sector trends, with growth focused on the advanced energy sector.
One exception is the solar sector. It lost 24,000 jobs — about 6% of the workforce — as the industry installed about 30% less in 2017 than it had the year before.
The “traditional energy sector” is made up of generation and fuels production, along with transmission, distribution and storage; the report also looks at the energy efficiency and motor vehicle sectors.
Growth in the traditional energy and efficiency sectors made up 7% of all jobs created in the United States last year. But while the overall national employment numbers are strong, former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, founder of the grid-edge think tank Energy Futures Initiative (EFI), believes states will remain the “focal points for solutions to many of the challenges in the energy transformation.”
The employment report was produced by EFI, working with the National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO), after the Department of Energy opted not to continue publishing the analysis as it had done in the previous two years.
“We think states will play a very important role,” Moniz said in May at an event for the report’s rollout. In particular, he said state efforts will be vital “as more and more states can align economic development plans, energy policies and workforce development plans, in a way that I think is frankly much harder to do at a larger level.”
Power generation and fuels directly employed more than 1.9 million workers last year, the report concluded — a rise of 15,000 jobs over 2016.
More than half of those employed by the sector last year, about 1.1 million, worked in traditional coal, oil or gas positions, the report found. The other, almost 800,000 workers, were employed in jobs related to low-carbon emission generation technologies, including renewables, nuclear and advanced/low-emission natural gas.
On the renewables side, it was a mixed bag.
The wind industry added about 107,000 workers last year — an increase of almost 6%. On the other hand, solar energy firms shed 24,000 jobs, which is a reduction of about 6%.
It was the first decline in solar jobs in several years, the report noted, and almost two-thirds of it came from two states: California and Massachusetts.
“The reasons for this decline are still unclear, but could include an increase in labor productivity, market saturation for residential solar, and/or concern over solar panel tariffs,” the report speculated. “Meanwhile, extraction jobs in oil and natural gas have remained stable, even growing slightly, while output has increased, in a low-price environment.”
Energy efficiency is “by far the largest segment” of the energy sector, when you look at it in revenue dollars and employment, Advanced Energy Economy spokesperson Monique Hanis told Utility Dive in an email.