- Adopting clean energy technology in new and existing buildings holds significant job creation potential, according to a study by Schneider Electric and Boston University announced Oct. 10.
- Implementing and sustaining technologies like solar photovoltaic, heat pumps and battery storage systems could generate more than 2 million new clean energy jobs and around 141 million additional job years across Europe and the U.S, according to the study published in the June 2023 Electricity Journal.
- The findings can help building owners and operators make retrofit estimates and help improve forecasts around scope, investment, lifecycle management and impact for building projects, Schneider Electric said.
"This study brings greater detail to the sizable potential for new jobs created by low-carbon buildings," Benjamin Sovacool, director of the Boston University Institute for Global Sustainability, said in a news release. IGS conducted the study with Schneider Electric’s Sustainability Research Institute.
U.S. job creation will vary by region, the report states, estimating the creation of 182,000 potential new jobs in the West, 123,000 in the Northeast, 18,900 in the Midwest and 319,000 in the South and Southeast.
The potential for job creation depends on the location and building type, the research said, noting that job creation at commercial buildings could range from 0.3 to 4.7 jobs per building. For heat pumps, solar PV and batteries, the largest share of additional job years comes from construction and installation, the release said. A job year refers to one year of employment per person. The 141 million job years the study estimates clean energy adoption could create includes 2 million jobs created by adopting clean energy technologies and the duration of jobs that would be needed to support clean energy technologies in buildings.
“It’s facilities managers, adopting these [clean energy] technologies, who are doing installations and maintenance work, as those jobs are needed for new technologies, hardware and the management of that hardware,” Thomas Kwan, director of sustainability research at Schneider Electric and one of the authors of the study, said in an interview.
The study calculated the employment impacts associated with low-carbon building archetypes across various sectors, from healthcare and hospitality to offices, retail and education, in North America, Europe and Asia. It primarily focused on the potential benefits of installing rooftop solar PV, heat pumps and energy storage batteries for building owners and operators. These low-carbon technologies are crucial to cutting greenhouse gas emissions, the research said. The employment projections will gradually materialize in alignment with global net-zero emissions objectives set for 2050, making it a reasonable timeline for achieving full renovation of all eligible buildings, it said.
The study modeled two building classes — the “building of today” versus the “building of the future”. Both building classes share the same attributes, such as the level of energy intensity for various loads — heating, cooling and appliances — retrieved from the ASHRAE database, the report said. “The building of the future differs from the building of today as the heating load is further electrified with heat pumps, digital controls are implemented to optimize energy use with occupancy, and distributed generation alongside storage is also deployed,” the paper said.
Kwan recommends that facilities managers consider adopting a full system of solar panels, battery storage and heat pumps rather than gravitating solely toward heat pumps for purposes of electrification.
“In cases where clean energy technologies have a higher ‘green’ premium on the costs, there may be an additionality to the cost, which is not as palatable as business-as-usual technologies,” Kwan said. He recommended three levers that facilities managers with limited budgets can use to find the resources for clean energy: First, facilities managers can tap into policy initiatives and government support mechanisms. Secondly, facilities staff must take decisions that involve considering the costs of gas and electricity over the period of the asset’s life, including whether those costs will increase or decrease in the future. Doing that “could dramatically change how facilities managers would see the upfront costs” of clean energy technology investments, he said. Thirdly, implementing smart controls where new assets are deployed for heating and cooling can be an additional cost-cutting measure for the life of those assets.
A separate September 2023 report from Schneider Electric’s Sustainability Research Institute pointed to the potential of deploying digital building and power management tools in existing office buildings to slash up to 70% of emissions. The company said this research, alongside another report on net-zero buildings released last year, which found implementing low-carbon technologies can cut over 60% of carbon emissions, can help inform companies, communities and governments seeking to engage in building projects.