Meltdown 101: Where are the renewable energy jobs?

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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.

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