Everywhere you turn there is talk of a shift to renewable energy, of building wind farms and solar plants, of making buildings more efficient, of developing biofuels. And of billions in federal funding to help make it all happen
This should mean a whole lot of new energy jobs. So where are they — and how do you get one?
clean energy sector has certainly been on a tear in recent years, and
there will be a lot more money flowing in to meet government-backed
Here’s the “but”:
The recession has walloped the
clean energy sector like every other, and no one is going on a hiring
spree right now. Companies have shelved plans for wind farms, solar
parks and biofuels plants. Some have laid off workers. Others have been
forced to seek bankruptcy protection.
Still, this is a growth field, and most agree business will pick up later this year or in 2010.
energy provides a small fraction of electricity used today but the wind
and solar sectors are among the fastest growing in the United States.
1998 and 2007, renewable energy employment grew by about 9.1 percent,
according to a recent study by The Pew Charitable Trusts that was based
on an extensive jobs database. That still totals only about 770,000
jobs, or about one half of 1 percent of all jobs in the United States,
according to the study. And the period under study ended before the
recession struck, so it remains unclear how well the new energy sector
has fared since then.
Yet there are early signs that, in addition to government funding, venture capital continues to pour into renewable energy.
Here are some questions and answers about the industry, including what kind of jobs are available.
Q: What kinds of renewable energy jobs are there?
A: Just about any job found in a traditional industry can apply to renewables. But a few fields stand out.
and wind turbine manufacturing plants will need assembly line workers.
Mechanics, electricians and maintenance workers will be needed for wind
farms, solar parks and biofuels plants. And many types of science and
engineering positions will be central to the growth of the industry.
Q: How is the federal money being allocated?
package includes about $21 billion in tax incentives for renewable
energy manufacturers, which has been a key source of funding to help
them lure additional investments.
About $11 billion is being earmarked for improving the nation’s overcrowded, aging electricity system.
allocations include: $6 billion, energy efficiency projects; $5
billion, weatherization program for low-income housing; $2 billion,
advanced battery technology; $500 million, job training; $300 million,
fuel-efficient vehicles for federal government use.
Q: What particular parts of the renewable energy sector are hiring?
About 65 percent of the jobs today are with companies that recycle
waste, cut greenhouse gas pollution and handle water conservation,
according to the Pew study released this month.
There also has
been job growth this year at major utilities that are quickly adding a
big solar component to the business, said Neal Lurie of the American
Solar Energy Society.
Q: What kind of experience is needed?
Many types of jobs require little or no additional training and
transition smoothly to the green industry — accountants, stock clerks,
security guards or electricians are all represented in the field.
colleges are offering training classes for more specialized jobs, such
as solar panel installation, wind turbine repair and biofuels
An electrician, for example, can spend a couple of
weeks in training and then begin installing solar panels. A plumber can
be trained in a few weeks to install solar thermal water heaters, said
Roger Bezdek, president of consultancy Management Information Services
Q: What is the salary range?
A: A study released this
year by Management Information Services and the U.S. Bureau of Labor
Statistics detailed some median annual salaries:
worker, $30,800; recycling worker, $26,400; energy audit specialist,
$40,300; environmental engineer, $76,000; environmental engineer
technician, $42,800; microbiologist, $64,600; physicist, $93,300.
Q: What’s the best way to break into the field?
Do a little research to figure out where your interests lie, think
about your work experience, and consider what sector is growing in your
region, or in a place where you’d be willing to relocate. Volunteer at
nonprofit organizations or tour businesses to see the technology and
how it works.
There are a number of Web sites that list renewable
energy jobs and job hunting tips, such as the American Solar Energy
Society, Renewable Energy Jobs.Net.
Q: Do I have to move to find a green job?
A: Maybe. There are states with a stronger green energy base and, historically, more green jobs per capita.
is tops for green, with more than 1 percent of the state’s total job
base in the clean energy sector, according to Pew researchers. Once
again, though, the recession complicates matters: In Oregon, 33 of the
state’s 36 counties had unemployment rates of at least 10 percent last
month, the state reported Monday.
There are, however, some states to keep an eye on when the economy does rebound.
is a close runner-up to Oregon for green jobs per capita;
Massachusetts, Minnesota, Colorado, Idaho and California also have a
higher-than-average number of jobs in the field. Colorado is big on
wind, and Arizona, not surprisingly, attracts solar types. But so does
New Jersey — that state is pursuing solar energy aggressively, and
utilities there are plowing millions into new sun-powered projects.