Green Jobs Booming

October 27, 2009

But troubling outlook for manufacturing in the U.S.

by David L. Levy

SERC global HQ

Last week a student at our university sheepishly poked his head into my office and asked if I knew where the Center for Sustainable Enterprise and Regional Competitiveness (SERC) was located, as he was interested in the new University of Massachusetts clean energy programs he had heard about. Perhaps he  expected to find the SERC Global Headquarters in a shiny new steel and glass building, but for now my rather grungy office serves the purpose. The student, an African-American business major who grew up in the Roxbury area of Boston, is already interning at an energy efficiency organization serving the inner city. His enthusiasm for our plans for Clean Energy Workforce Training programs was palpable and infectious – he wanted to sign up right away. He didn’t just want a credential – he really understood how clean energy programs, by imparting relevant expertise and skills and connecting with regional businesses, will contribute to employment, economic development, and improved housing. We have the chance to create communities that are sustainable environmentally, economically, and socially. (For Earthday 2010, David was interviewed about green jobs and business opportunities on New England Cable News.)

I’ve spent months of reading about green jobs, building the new center, coordinating meetings, and writing grant proposals, but this was the moment that made it real. I had my first tangible sense of the people we could serve and the potential for our vision to connect with the needs of the community. Later the same day, I was at an event organized by the Energy Interest group of the MIT Enterprise Forum. Aside from the usual ensemble of clean energy businesspeople, venture capitalists, academics, graduate students, and assorted groupies, I was struck by how many people I met who were looking for a career transition into clean energy – accountants, salespeople,  engineers, product managers, lawyers, and others. Some had been laid off during the recession, but some were attracted by the prospect of greener pastures, greater professional opportunities, and aligning their personal values with their work in a fast growing sector. This helped to confirm the market logic behind our plans to offer shorter certificate programs for professionals.

Evidence for the boom in clean tech employment is more than anecdotal. This month Clean Edge launched a new report that provides detailed analysis of employment trends in the sector. They define clean-tech jobs as “those that are a direct result of the development, production, and/or deployment of technologies that harness renewable materials and energy sources; reduce the use of natural resources by using them more efficiently and productively; and cut or eliminate pollution and toxic wastes.” The CleanEdge report notes that the 770,000 clean tech jobs in the US in 2007 (per the June 2009 Pew report) is comparable with more mature US industries such as biotech at 200,000, telecommunications at 989,000, and traditional energy including utilities, coal mining and oil and gas extraction 1.3 million. The Pew report also found that clean-energy jobs are growing fast, increasing by 9.1% annually from 1998 to 2007 compared to 3.7% for all U.S. jobs over the same period.

Neglected in this and other “green jobs” reports is the rapid growth in the clean-tech related service sector. While the numbers are hard to estimate, I keep running into evidence of expansion in several areas. This year has seen an explosion of interest in carbon accounting and management software, with a number of independent firms being bought out by larger integrated corporate software providers such as CA and SAP. Many financial, legal, accounting, and consulting firms are building their capacity in the environmental area. One local consultancy, The Brattle Group, now lists 14 staff with expertise related to policy, economics, regulation, and planning.   

top cleantech jobs sectors

Source: Clean Edge: Clean Tech Job Trends © 2009

The Clean Edge report lists energy, transportation, materials, and water as the four major sectors, but the most activity, in terms of jobs and investment, is in the energy sector: solar, biofuels, efficiency, smart grid, and wind. Efficiency-related employment in utilities represents the largest single employment sector. Perhaps most useful, the last section of the report provides a reasonably comprehensive guide to clean tech employment resources.

A salary survey demonstrates the wide variety of jobs being created by clean tech, from renewable energy project developers with graduate degrees earning more than $100,000 to insulation installers earning $36,000. Technicians, welders, and sheet metal workers without university education are earning around $50,000, while engineers, accountants and business analysts with degrees are earning from $60,000 to $80,000.

The report provides information on the regional distribution of jobs, and points to several large clusters. The largest is in California, followed by the East Coast Washington DC to Boston corridor. But the report stresses that “No one place or region will control any one clean-tech sector. Clusters of clean-tech activity, supported by local technology development, capital flows, and supportive public policies, are springing up across the U.S. and around the world.”

top cleantech metro regions

Source: Clean Edge: Clean Tech Job Trends © 2009

One surprise is the table of the global top 10 publicly traded pure-play clean tech companies, which together employ about 100,000 people. Three of the companies are Chinese, and the sectors include energy storage, smart grid, and electric motors. The report also notes that large, diversified multinational companies are also major employers. “Siemens currently has 5,500 employees working for its wind business, BP has more than 2,200 solar employees, and GE Energy, with a diverse portfolio of both conventional and rapidly expanding clean-energy activities, employs 40,000. Other multinationals with significant clean-tech workforces… include Sharp, Toyota, and ABB.”

top 10 employers

Source: Clean Edge: Clean Tech Job Trends © 2009

A section titled US Manufacturing Jobs in Transition tries to put a positive spin on the replacement of traditional industrial jobs with clean tech employment. The numbers, however, don’t paint an optimistic picture. Maytag, for example, closed down a home appliance manufacturing facility in Newton, Iowa, in 2007, laying off 1800 people, while TPI Composites, a wind turbine blade manufacturer, has now opened a plant employing 325 people. The truth is that aside from turbine blades, which are hard to ship over large distances, clean energy manufacturing is quickly shifting to low cost countries. It used to be the case that emerging industries enjoyed premium pricing for a number of years before the products became low-cost commodities, and intense competition would drive production offshore. Recently I’ve been hearing that manufacturing of solar, advanced batteries, and other clean energy components is shifting offshore almost as soon as it’s out of the lab and into commercial production. I’ve written academic articles about the offshoring phenomenon (download pdf) and understand how communication technologies and management techniques facilitate the process, but it’s still a shock to see how quickly this is happening in a sector held out to be the great new hope for regions ravaged by de-industrialization. Look out for a future posting on this question of competitiveness and the likely regional distribution of clean tech value added.

4 Responses to “Green Jobs Booming”

  1. Great content! The clean-tech related service sector is on the move. See

    Jumping into Carbon Accounting Software Field – http://bit.ly/3UH713.

  2. Can someone provide more details on Carbon accounting and management software – in terms of growth prospects? Are their any specialized courses that are available from reputable firms?

  3. Vivek,

    We have a course at the GHG Management Institute (www.ghginstitute.org) on this subject and have a new demo series on GHG information management system software products starting soon.

    michael

  4. @Michael- Thank yo got the info. Are these all online courses?

    David. Your blog is very informative. It provides tremendous and unique information on renewable energy. Thanks.

    -VR
    (http://blog.valopia.com)