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 2020 ‘US Energy and Employment Report‘ (USEER).

It is detailed and lengthy and, for something shorter (albeit from last year), 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“.

EMPLOYMENT BY SECTOR

Employment, in the ‘2020 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 2020 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. This 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 (the most recent available): it 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.

The top half shows the Energy Sector (Renewables, Hydrocarbons and Nuclear), the  Employment within it and how much each sector produced of total US 2018 primary energy consumption.  Given that renewables currently supply a relatively small part (11.4%) of US primary energy, in order to aid comparison between sectors we have also provided information on the number of people employed to generate a single Quad (One quadrillion BTUs) of energy.

Of note: per Quad of energy produced, the renewable energy sector employs 47,253 people or more than twice as many as Hydrocarbons (20,271) and almost six times as many as nuclear (8,332).

The bottom half of the table breaks down each of the three sectors into their component parts. For instance: solar employed 248,000 people in 2019 and generated 0.95 Quads of primary energy in 2018.

To aid comparison between sectors, the following table shows how many people per Quad of energy, each sector employs relative to any other.

For example, solar employs 31.4 times more people than nuclear or, conversely, nuclear employs 3.2% the number of people as solar. The wind industry employs 2.2 times more people than gas or, stated otherwise, the gas industry employs 45.2% as many people as does the wind sector.

In summary: per unit of energy produced, the renewable energy industry employs vastly more people than the hydrocarbon or nuclear industries. Something to keep in mind as people talk about job creation potential of various sectors of the economy.

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