Solar leads US Energy generation jobs

Coal is in decline, oil and nuclear are experiencing slow growth, natural gas is on the rise, but solar and wind are the top performers in US energy-generation jobs.

The US Department of Energy (DOE) recently issued its second annual US Energy and Employment Report (USEER) and the numbers show a sharp move out of traditional fossil fuels into solar.

According to the report, solar creates more electricity-generation employment than oil, gas, coal and nuclear combined. Wind power came in third in DOE’s analysis, behind solar and fossil fuels, but ranks second as a standalone when the fossil fuels are broken down individually by technology.

The analysis was conducted by BW Research using data compiled from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages.

Proportionally, solar employment accounts for “the largest share of workers in the Electric Power Generation sector,” the report states. “This is largely due to the construction related to the significant build out of new solar generation capacity.”

Despite drops in several sectors, the numbers for American energy jobs were strong overall. Some 6.4 million people work in US energy — about 14 percent of all the jobs in the country, with 2016 adding an additional 300,000 positions.

Here are the rankings:

#1 Solar: With 373,807 jobs, some 43 percent of the total, solar is far and away the biggest job creator in the US electric energy generation sector and could be responsible for more than 50 percent in only a few short years. Between 2006 and 2016, the industry exploded, ballooning 5,000 percent (no that is not a typo), from “508,000 MWh to just over 28,000,000 MWh” of electricity produced.

#2 Wind: Wind power is another sector that is experiencing massive job growth — 32 percent according to USEER. Wind provides 101,738 jobs, up from over 77,000 in last year’s report, and was the fastest growing industry in the 2017 USEER.

#3 Coal: Despite massive decline, coal still comes in third in creating 86,035 jobs that deliver electricity to Americans. The amount of coal in the national energy generation mix (both Fuels and Electricity Generation) has declined by 53 percent since 2006, according to the report.

#4 Nuclear: Nuclear, despite its many problems, creates the fourth most electricity generation jobs in America — 68,176.

#5 Traditional Hydroelectric: Despite its lack of glamour, hydroelectric is responsible for an impressive number of jobs: 56,259 according to the USEER, landing it in fifth place overall.

#6 Natural Gas: “Natural gas electric generation employers expect flat employment growth over the next 12 months, reporting projected growth of just one percent,” says the 2017 USEER. Nevertheless, conventional natural gas power plants, and adjoining occupations, create 52,125 jobs.

#7 Advanced Gas: “Advanced Gas” creates a surprisingly high amount of jobs for an energy classification that most Americans have likely never heard of — 36,117 according to the 2017 USEER.

#8 Bioenergy/CHP: There are 26,014 American jobs created by various bioenergy systems. Combined Heat and Power (CHP) technology generators burn various forms of biomass for energy while capturing waste-heat at the same time.

#9 Oil: Oil and petroleum dwarf all other technologies in the “Fuels” sector, creating 502,678 oil and gas jobs, but with many US oil-fired power plants shutting down in recent years, the sector provides a mere 12,840 jobs in electricity generation. “Petroleum liquids account for less than one percent of all utility-scale generation in the United States, and have declined in total net generation by 79 percent since 2006,” the 2017 USEER stated.

#10 Low Impact Hydroelectric: Low Impact Hydroelectric is similar to traditional hydroelectric power, but with stricter environmental parameters. Certified “low impact” facilities employ 9,295 in the US according to the 2017 USEER.

#11 Geothermal: Geothermal is a relatively clean form of energy that currently employs 5,768 American workers. California is by far the leader, generating nearly 3,000 MWh of power a year — roughly 80 percent of US geothermal output.

Despite its top ranking in jobs generation, however, solar is still relatively weak when it comes to America’s overall energy output in megawatt-hours, with just 1.34 percent in 2016, according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). Hydropower boasts 6.52 percent, wind 5.48 percent, natural gas is in first place in total energy output with 34.15 percent, coal is down four percent to 29.65 percent and nuclear power dropped slightly to 19.67 percent.