Renewables Appear to Be on The Rise, But Where are the Jobs?

E&E News today highlighted a report from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) showing record-setting industry growth in 2020. Solar developers brought a record 19.2 gigawatts of power online, 43% more than in 2019, according to the report.

The article also notes, “Solar utility-scale projects thrived during the pandemic, sprouting up at a “historic” rate and accounting for close to three-fourths of the capacity growth, SEIA said. Even residential solar, which came to a standstill during state shutdowns in the first part of 2020, rebounded to grow its capacity by 11%.”

Continued growth of solar and other renewable energy sources is key to bolstering the U.S. “all-of-the-above” energy strategy that focuses on development of alternative energy while also recognizing the still-critical role of fossil fuels.

But it is also important to look at the jobs, and despite the significant growth in the renewable sector as reported, it doesn’t seem the employment opportunities are likewise growing:

Yet BW Research, which tracks renewable jobs, reported last month that wind and solar workforces were victims of the pandemic. The research firm said about 9% of the renewable power workforce — or more than 53,000 workers — was still out of work at the end of 2020.

That “decoupling” of renewable growth and workforce recovery likely resulted from gains in labor efficiency, meaning renewable companies are using fewer, more specialized workers for their installation, said Philip Jordan, vice president of BW Research.

“I’m 100% sure that, in five years, you’ll have fewer workers per megawatt than you have today. Because we’re consistently increasing labor efficiency,” he said in an interview last month.

This comes after President Biden’s promises to create millions of “clean energy” jobs with the transition from fossil fuels to renewables. On Day One, Biden cancelled a key permit for the Keystone XL Pipeline, killing an estimated 11,000 good-paying middle-class jobs, and appears to be considering measures that could block additional infrastructure and reduce employment opportunities in the industry.

Despite the campaign promises, 1 job loss in the oil and gas industry does not mean 1 job gained in wind and solar. With the U.S. economy still recovering from the pandemic, it is important to keep our eye on the long-term impacts of such policies.

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