Wind Energy FAQs: Employment in Renewables

U.S. Employment in wind vs. other energy sectors

In this post we show that renewable energy creates significantly more jobs than traditional (hydrocarbon and nuclear) fuels.
Solar is the leader and, despite being cheaper than nuclear, creates thirty times more jobs per unit of energy generated. Wind is in second place.

For more detail; read on..

REFERENCES

Most of the material in this post is drawn from the 2019 ‘US Energy and Employment Report‘ (USEER).

It is detailed and lengthy and, for something shorter, try ‘Clean Jobs America 2019 Report‘ which is packed full of useful data such as, “nearly 3.2 million Americans now go to work each and every day in wind, solar, energy efficiency, clean vehicles and other clean energy jobs” and “More Americans now work in clean energy than work in agriculture, real estate, investment banking and the entertainment, media and sports industries combined“.

Another great reference is the 2017 edition of the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) annual ‘U.S. Energy and Employment Jobs Report‘;    

EMPLOYMENT BY SECTOR

Employment, in the ‘2019 USEER’, is divided into three broad areas:

  • Fuels employment encompasses work related to fuel extraction, mining, and processing, including petroleum refineries and firms that support coal mining, oil, and gas field machinery manufacturing
  • Transmission, Distribution and Storage (TDS) refers to employment in the infrastructure of electric power and fuel links between the energy supplies and the intermediate and end users. It includes oil and gas pipelines, natural gas storage facilities, ports for handling crude and refined petroleum products, railways that handle coal, crude and refined petroleum products in addition to high- and medium- voltage power lines.
  • Electric Power Generation (EPG) covers utility and non-utility employment across electric generating technologies, including fossil fuels, nuclear, and renewable energy technologies. Also included in the employment totals are any firms engaged in facility construction, turbine and other generation equipment manufacturing, and wholesale parts distribution for all electric generation technologies

We used the 2019 USEER to ascertain employment in each of the major energy sectors (solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, biomass, coal, oil, gas and nuclear) across the three main areas (fuels, TDS and EPG).

ENERGY PRODUCTION BY SECTOR

However, employment numbers alone do not tell the entire story because each of these sectors generates differing amounts of energy. That amount is illustrated by the ‘US Energy Flow Chart‘ which has been produced annually by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory since the 1970s and is arguably the most widely recognized energy flow chart in the country. The chart, shown to the right, is for 2018 and details the sources of energy production and how Americans are using that energy.

Putting it all together..

All of this information is summarized in the following table which shows the Energy Sector, the Employment within it, and how much Primary Energy (in Quads) each sector generated in 2018. For instance: Solar employed 242,343 people and generated 0.95 Quads of primary energy in 2018. To ensure comparison across sectors, this figure is then prorated to show how many people are employed to generate one Quad of primary energy – in the case of solar, 255,367. The data is then sorted in descending order of people employed per unit of energy generated.

Looking only at the number of people employed in each sector (i.e. the first column) no obvious pattern exists: indeed, the oil and gas sectors are the two leaders.

However: include the amount of energy generated by each and the results change radically. Per unit of energy generated, solar is the clear winner employing 255,367 people per Quad of primary energy generated: this is almost 30 times more than nuclear which is the lowest ranking. Wind is second highest with 43,939 people per Quad. Indeed, all the top five sectors are renewables.

Two things, in particular, are striking,

    1. Despite generating only 11% of US primary energy, renewables are responsible for 25% of all energy sector employment.
    2. Per unit of energy generated, the top five sectors for job creation are all taken by renewables whereas the bottom four belong to hydrocarbons and nuclear.

The following graphic presents the same data in a format which allows ready comparison between energy sectors,

For instance: per unit of energy generated – solar employs 29.9 times more people than nuclear and wind employs 2.2 times more than the gas industry. Alternatively, the oil industry employs just under half (49.3%) as many as wind and only 8.5% as many people as solar.

In response, critics will doubtless say that wind and solar must be extremely inefficient since they need to employ so many. However, that argument has no merit either – wind and solar now win on cost too – as we show in this post.

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