Energy Transition

Jobs in renewable energy are growing in the US – here are the highlights

In 2021, renewable energy jobs accounted for around 40% of total energy jobs.

In 2021, renewable energy jobs accounted for around 40% of total energy jobs. Image: Unsplash/American Public Power Association

Victoria Masterson
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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  • Renewable energy jobs grew across every US energy sector in 2021, a new report finds.
  • Electric and hybrid vehicles defied the COVID-19 slowdown and continued to add jobs.
  • In electricity generation, solar was the fastest growing technology, adding 17,212 jobs and growing 5.4% in 2021.

The transition to renewables is boosting employment opportunities in the US, a new report finds. In its United States Energy & Employment Report 2022, the U.S. Department of Energy reveals green job rises in every energy sector.

More than 3 million of the 7.8 million jobs in the US energy sector are in areas aligned to America’s goal of being carbon neutral by 2050. This means renewable energy jobs in 2021 accounted for around 40% of total energy jobs.

Green auto jobs drive ahead

In the motor vehicles sector, hybrid electric vehicles saw the biggest jump in employment, with 23,577 new jobs. This led to an overall 25% jump in new jobs in carbon-reducing motor vehicles and component-part technologies.

COVID-19 failed to slow jobs growth in electric and hybrid vehicles, the report notes. This contrasts with the energy sector as a whole, which saw a sharp decline in employment of nearly 840,000 jobs in 2020.

The renewable energy job growth in hybrid and electric car making in the US was not slowed by COVID-19.
The renewable energy job growth in hybrid and electric car making in the US was not slowed by COVID-19. Image: U.S Department of Energy

Energy efficiency and transmission jobs

The energy efficiency sector, which includes green technologies for heating, ventilation and air conditioning, added 17,740 jobs in 2021 - a growth of 3.3%.

In the fuels sector, biofuels grew 6.7%, with 1,180 new jobs added. This sector includes renewable diesel fuels, biodiesel fuels, and waste fuels.

The transmission, distribution and storage sector saw strong growth in smart grids and batteries. Smart grids are electricity networks that use digital and other technologies to efficiently manage energy supply and demand.

The US Department of Energy says smart grids outpaced virtually every other technology in the sector, growing jobs by 4.9% in 2021. Batteries for electric vehicles and to store energy from electricity grids grew 4.4%, with 2,949 new jobs.

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Renewable energy jobs

The electric power generation sector saw big gains for wind and solar. Solar saw the biggest growth of all electricity generation technologies. It added 17,212 jobs and grew 5.4% in 2021.

This comes after a tough year in 2020, when COVID-19 saw the solar industry lose 28,718 jobs.

Onshore and offshore wind saw “sustained modest growth” in new renewable energy jobs– with 3,347 created – and 2.9% growth. This continues a “trend of steady growth” over the last few years, the report notes.

Other renewable energy technologies used in electric power generation also added new jobs in 2021, including hydropower, bioenergy and geothermal.

Solar saw significant growth among renewable energy jobs in 2021.
Solar saw significant growth among renewable energy jobs in 2021. Image: U.S Department of Energy

Jobs in fossil fuel generation slow

Fossil fuels, on the other hand, saw power generation jobs either fall or grow more slowly.

Coal power generation lost 572 jobs, a fall of 0.8%. Electricity generation from natural gas and petroleum grew at 1.6% and 0.5%, respectively, slower than the overall US employment growth of 2.8% in 2021.

This reflects recent research that suggests investing in clean energy creates more jobs in the near term than investing in fossil fuels.

Solar energy investments create 1.5 times as many jobs as equivalent fossil fuel investments. The analysis was published in October 2021 by the World Resources Institute, the International Trade Union Confederation, and the New Climate Economy.

Renewable and technology skills

The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2020 also identifies renewable energy engineers as a top in-demand role for both the oil and gas industry and the energy utilities and technologies industry.

Data analysts, specialists in the internet of things – the world of connected devices – artificial intelligence, and machine learning are among the other jobs in high demand in both industries.

The report calls for an acceleration of reskilling and training as technology transforms the world of work. By 2025, the Forum predicts that humans and machines will spend the same amount of time on tasks at work.

Reskilling for the future world of work

By 2030, the Forum hopes to provide one billion people with better education, skills and jobs through its Reskilling Revolution.

This aims to accelerate system change in skills provision through activities including national, industry and educational upskilling initiatives, industry task forces and policy change initiatives. The Reskilling Revolution is also developing a new standards framework for the future world of work.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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Energy TransitionJobs and the Future of Work
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