If you’ve read the latest U.S. Energy and Employment report, it’s very clear that employment in low carbon emission generation technologies, including renewables, nuclear, and advanced/low emission natural gas is on the rise. With statements such as, “There are an additional 102,000 workers employed at wind firms across the nation…. [and] wind employment increased by 32%.”, it’s easy to be impressed.
Many Americans are excited about the prospect of transitioning to cleaner energy sources, but, we shouldn’t be getting too eager yet. Yes, the statistics for current renewable energy employment trends are going in the right direction, but there may be more to the story that “experts” aren’t telling you.
First, it’s important to keep in mind that previous policy makers have significantly influenced growth OR decline in the different energy sectors. For example, solar and wind have been subsidized, while new regulations are have decimated the coal industry. Government took the role of picking winners and losers, no matter the cost. With a more “free-market” administration in place that is more opposed to subsidies and regulations, it’s hard to say if the current trends will continue. Government will be stepping back and letting each sector flourish or fail based on its ability to meet market demands at a cost-effective price. And whatever happens from this, employment trends will follow.
Second, we need to look at the bigger picture and not get too worked up over one year of reporting. Remember Mark Twain’s famous quote, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." With this latest report, everyone is excited to report that solar is in the lead for employment growth with a growth rate of 14.7% for 2016. “That’s 12 times greater than the growth of the US economy!!” they yell… But they conveniently leave out the part that 14.7% is a considerable drop from the 20% growth in 2015. If you’re looking at trends, this would indicate solar is declining, not increasing.
And last, with the increase in renewable energy jobs, what cost comes with it? Many researchers and studies point out the fact that the benefits of renewable energy are off-set on some level by economy-wide job reductions from loss of discretionary income. That’s a fancy way of saying everyone makes less money because we’re paying more for our energy bill. And when bills go up, companies go out of business and people lose their job.
In conclusion, the growth of employment in the renewable energy sectors is fantastic! Discovering and developing cleaner sources of energy and fuel is important and necessary for our future, and it seems to be trending in the right direction. However, fossil fuel based energy is still the big dog on campus, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.