Displacement in the Energy Industry: Fossil Fuels have “Lost the Race”; Wind Power Growing; Coal Workers Displaced

Analysis presented at the Bloomberg New Energy Finance annual summit in New York on April 14 was titled: Fossil Fuels Just Lost the Race Against Renewables: This is the beginning of the end (April 14). Bloomberg states that the shift occurred in 2013, when the world added 143 gigawatts of renewable electricity capacity, compared with 141 gigawatts in new plants that burn fossil fuels.

More statistics and a forecast are presented in a White Paper, Medium-term outlook for US power: 2015 = deepest decarbonization ever (April 8). And an International Energy Agency (IEA) press release in March states that global emissions of carbon dioxide from the energy sector stalled in 2014, marking the first time in 40 years in which there is a drop in GHG emissions that was not tied to an economic downturn. “Preliminary IEA data point to emissions decoupling from economic growth for the first time in 40 years” (13 March, 2015). The IEA attributes the halt in emissions growth to expanding reliance on renewables in China and energy efficiency improvements in OECD countries. China alone added 23 GW in wind power, almost half the world’s new wind installation capacity in 2014, according to the Global Wind Energy Market Report 2014 by the Global Wind Energy Council. Canada ranked 6th in new wind installations in 2014 and now ranks 7th in cumulative installed capacity in the world. Canada also appears in the report regarding the use of green bonds to finance wind power, illustrated by  the case of Northland Power.
 
Duke University researchers used input output modelling to measure job loss, gains, and displacement in each sector of the electricity sector in “Employment Trends in the U.S. Electricity Sector, 2008-2012” in the journal Energy Policy in March (access restricted). They report that the U.S. coal industry lost more than 49,000 jobs, while the natural gas, solar and wind industries together created nearly four times that amount.  

 

Clean Energy Canada Moves to Simon Fraser University

Clean Energy Canada, formerly a project of Tides Canada, announced on March 2 that it will become a new program within the Centre for Dialogue at Simon Fraser University. The Centre for Dialogue states that “uses dialogue to generate non-partisan and constructive communication around difficult topics. We partner with government, business, and community groups to explore critical issues that impact the social, economic, environmental, and cultural well-being of our communities”. Merran Smith, Director of Clean Energy Canada, has been named a Fellow within the Centre and will continue to lead the program, which aims to accelerate Canada’s transition to a clean and renewable energy system.

Solar Jobs in the U.S., and a Survey of Working Conditions

 The newly released U.S. Solar Jobs Census 2014 from the Solar Foundation states that there are 173,807 solar workers in the U.S., representing a growth rate of 21.8% since November 2013.  The installation segment of the solar sector represents the single largest source of domestic employment growth in the U.S., more than doubling in size since 2010.
The report also asserts that diversity is growing since 2013, and that wages remain competitive, with installers earning $20-$24 per hour; assemblers earning close to $18 per hour, solar designers, $30-$40 per hour, and sales staff ranging widely from $30 to $60 per hour. In his response to the release of the Census, the U.S. Energy Secretary highlights the DOE Solar Instructor Training Network at nearly 400 community colleges in 49 states. He states that the program has trained over 30,000 people since 2010, with a goal of 50,000 new solar workers trained by 2020.

 

The Solar Census covers all segments of the solar industry in the U.S. In contrast, The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition Annual Scorecard surveys and ranks solar PV manufacturers internationally, with the goal “to enhance transparency around environmental health, safety, and sustainability issues for communities, workers, and the environment”. The latest edition, released in late November 2014 names manufacturers and ranks them on environmental issues such as Extended Producer Responsibility, water use, use of conflict minerals, and use of toxic chemicals. It also includes a category for Worker Rights and Health and Safety policies, measured by “a formal commitment to protecting worker rights, health, and safety that goes beyond compliance with local laws and regulations; commitment to improving employee wages; signage informing illiterate workers about minimum wage provisions; coverage of workforce by collective bargaining; workday case rates; recordable incident rates; and adoption of OHSAS for 100% of facilities”. Top ranked companies in the workers rights category in 2014, are Trina (owned by Chinese interests), SunPower (headquartered in California), and REC (recently taken over from Norwegian control by a Chinese company).

Study Examines “High Road”, Unionized Jobs in the California Solar Industry

A study released on November 10 by the University of California at Berkeley examines the environmental and economic impact of a boom in utility-scale solar electricity generation in California since 2010.

The report describes the overall economic and policy situation, then calculates the new construction, maintenance, and operations jobs created, plus the upstream and downstream jobs. It estimates the income and health and pension benefits of these new construction and plant operations jobs, most of which are unionized.

In California, the union contracts have required payments into apprenticeship training programs; the study calculates the new monies that have been generated for apprenticeship programs, and asserts that the boom in utility-scale solar construction has set in motion a related boom in apprenticeship and other forms of training for electricians, operating engineers, ironworkers, carpenters, millwrights, piledrivers, and laborers. The author estimates how apprenticeship affects lifetime earnings- using the example of electrical apprentices, who are estimated to see a lifetime income approximately $1 million higher than that of workers without similar training.

Finally, the report describes the policy environment that has facilitated this solar boom, and makes recommendations for the future. The author, Peter Philips, from the University of Utah, is currently a Visiting Scholar at the UC Berkeley Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, at the Donald Vial Center on Employment in the Green Economy.

Literature Review of Job Creation Impact of Energy Efficiency Investments

A study released by the U.K. Energy Research Centre (UKERC) on November 4 presents an analytical literature review of fifty studies published since 2000 on the relationship between green energy investment and job creation in the U.S., Europe and China. The report outlines the key concepts and modelling methodologies, and provides a comparative analysis of the job impact results of the studies surveyed.

Overall, the authors found that renewable energy and energy efficiency create up to ten times more jobs per unit of electricity generated or saved than fossil fuels. However, they conclude that the job creation issue is complex and is often wrongly focussed on short-term benefits. “The proper domain for the debate about the long-term role of renewable energy and energy efficiency is the wider framework of energy and environmental policy, not a narrow analysis of green job impacts.”

 LINKS

Low Carbon Jobs: The Evidence for Net Job Creation from Policy Support for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy is available from the Energy Research Centre website.