Renewables, efficiency dominate robust job growth in energy sector

Dive Brief:

  • Electric power generation jobs grew 13% in the last year as utilities replaced aging infrastructure and invested in new power plants, according to the latest Department of Energy report on job growth in the energy sector released last week. Across the board, jobs in the "Traditional Energy and Energy Efficiency industries" grew by 5%. 
  • The solar and wind industries experienced the strongest growth, as solar jobs rose 25% over the past year and the wind sector expanded 32%. The energy efficiency industries also experienced an upswing in jobs, adding 133,000 jobs to reach 2.2 million total jobs. 
  • Despite the robust job growth in the energy sector, the industry lags behind in diversity: Women make up just 22-34% of jobs in the different silos (below the national average of 47%), while ethnic and racial minorities also generally come in slightly below average.

Dive Insight:

The DOE's findings in its second annual jobs report underscores the evolution in the power sector as utilities shift from traditional power generation sources such as coal and nuclear toward natural gas, efficiency and renewable energy.

It should come as no surprise, then, that the renewable energy sector reported the biggest job growth as more utilities — backed by state policymakers and regulators — invested more in wind and solar to meet emissions rules, renewable energy laws, and growing consumer demand for clean energy. 

"These shifts in electric generation source are mirrored in the sector’s changing employment profile, as the share of natural gas, solar, and wind workers increases, while coal mining and other related employment is declining," the report noted.

Job growth in different energy sectors mirrors the evolution of the nation's power mix.  
Department of Energy

Most of these numbers are good news for an industry that faces an aging workforce and declining interest in its jobs. But it's worth noting that the industries compiling the biggest job growth numbers are not the most traditional. As grid modernization, energy efficiency, and clean energy continue to gain traction, job growth is projected to come from these sectors instead of mining and extraction for traditional resources.

There is a caveat to that forecast, however. President-elect Donald Trump has vowed to revive the dying coal industry and favors traditional fossil fuels resources. However, several GOP governors have cited robust job growth as a huge plus for investing in renewable energy and efficiency.

The workforce challenges facing the power sector right now include a gap in necessary skills for deploying new technology, the high rate of retirements, and a lack of diversity, according to The DOE's Quadrennial Energy Review.

"The evolving demands on the electricity industry are causing a number of workforce challenges for the electricity industry, which include large shifts in skills needed and in geographic location of jobs, a skills gap for deploying and operating newer technologies, changes occurring during a period when the industry is facing high levels of retirements, and challenges recruiting and retaining a workforce that reflects the gender and racial diversity of the Nation."

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