Growth and diversity in the U.S.clean energy industry

Two new reports foresee employment growth in the U.S. renewable energy industry – despite the chilling effect of the tariffs on solar equipment imposed  by the Trump administration, as described in a Solar Energy Industry Association press release in December.   The first study, Clean Energy sweeps across rural America  (November 2018) by the Natural Resources Defence Council examines job growth in wind, solar, and energy efficiency in rural regions throughout the Midwest U.S., and finds that the number of clean energy jobs grew by 6 percent from 2015 to 2016 (a higher rate than the economic in general), to a total of  nearly 160,000 in 2017.  In 2017, in the rural parts of every midwestern state except North Dakota and Kansas, more people worked in clean energy than in the entire fossil fuel industry.  The report emphasizes the outsized impact of job opportunities in rural areas in which job growth is normally negligible or even negative. The report also profiles examples of  community solar programs operated by co-ops and investor-owned utilities.

A second report  models the impact of  replacing Colorado’s coal plants with a mix of wind and solar backed by battery storage and natural gas.  This report was prepared by consultants Vibrant Clean Energy and commissioned by energy developer Community Energy Inc., with a main focus on cost savings and carbon emissions.  However, it also forecasts job impacts under three scenarios (keeping coal plants to 2040, gradually retiring coal plants, and retiring all coal plants in 2025), and overall,  it forecasts a 52% increase in employment in the electricity industry.

The January 9 press release  quotes a representative from Community Energy Inc:  “The key to unlocking these benefits is to create a legal framework that enables utilities to voluntarily retire the coal plants. Otherwise, it could take years to negotiate or litigate utility cost recovery, replacement power costs and impact on local communities.” The full Coal Plant Retirement study is here .

Finally, the Solar Energy Industries Association issued a press release in early December, highlighting its 2018 initiatives to improve gender equity and diversity – including the creation of the Women’s Empowerment Initiative, which includes summits to increase women’s leadership and various industry opportunities.  In September 2018,  the SEIA signed a Memorandum of Understanding  to help the solar industry recruit and employ more students from the 101 Historically Black Colleges and Universities.  This will include hosting a national jobs fair, individual jobs fairs at the HBCU schools and bringing solar companies to campuses for recruitment.   A webinar series on diversity and inclusion is scheduled for SEIA member companies in 2019.

Global Renewable Energy industry lacks human rights and labour rights protections

Renewable energy BHRRC cover part 2London-based Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) released a new report on September 5th : Renewable Energy Risking Rights & Returns: An analysis of solar, bioenergy & geothermal companies’ human rights commitments  . The report analyses 59 companies’ human rights policies and practices on five key areas: human rights commitment, community consultations, grievance mechanisms, labour rights and supply chain monitoring. It concludes that  “The current level of commitment by the majority of renewable energy companies is insufficient to prevent, address and mitigate human rights harms, especially as the sector rapidly expands.”

Concerning labour rights, only 36% of renewable energy companies were found to have policies committing them to core labour rights such as collective bargaining and freedom of association, 42% commit to  the prohibition of child labour and 41% to prohibition of  forced labour and modern slavery.  An aspect with resonance for Canadians, in light of the recent federal Court of Appeal decision against the Trans Mountain Pipeline, the report found that “less than 30% (17 out of 59) of renewable energy companies have a stated commitment to consultation with communities affected by their projects. Only 8 companies reference indigenous peoples’ rights and 4 companies have a commitment to free, prior and informed consent of indigenous communities.”  Overall,  47% of companies do not have basic human rights commitments or processes in place, and only 5 companies met a set of basic criteria on human rights, community consultation and access to remedy. These findings are consistent with a previous BHRRC  survey, reported in 2016.

Based  on its extensive research of the mining industry, BHRRC also states that “failure to respect human rights can result in project delays, legal procedures and costs for renewable energy companies, underlying the urgency to strengthen human rights due diligence.”   It calls for investors to step up their engagement in renewable energy companies to ensure better respect for human rights.

Read the press release here  for a summary of the report, and explore ongoing monitoring of human rights in the renewable energy sector here.

Wind energy continues to grow in the U.S.; Solar energy weathers Trump’s tariffs

Aerial view of the National Wind Technology Center; wind turbinesWind power capacity has tripled across the United States in just the last decade as prices have plunged and the technology has improved, according to new reports released by the U.S. Department of Energy at the end of August.  Three reports are summarized in a press release on August 23 , and in “U.S. Wind Power Is ‘Going All Out’ with Bigger Tech, Falling Prices, Reports Show” by Inside Climate News . The full reports are: 2017 Offshore Wind Technologies Market Update  August 2018 ; 2017 Wind Technologies Market Report  ; and 2017 Distributed Wind Market Report  .

How Much Damage are Trump’s Solar Tariffs Doing to the U.S. Industry?” (Aug. 20) in Inside Climate News concludes that the tariffs have had a dampening effect on the industry, but less than expected.  The  Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), using confidential information provided by the companies which are its members, estimates that 9,000 jobs have been affected to date – either by layoffs or prospective jobs that were cancelled. Their initial forecast in January 2018 had been that tariff-related job losses could reach about 23,000 for 2018.  The Solar Foundation reported in February 2018 in its annual Solar Jobs Census that 250,271 Americans worked in solar as of 2017, although the number of workers had declined in 2017 for the first time since 2010.  That trend will surely turn around by 2020 when the new regulations in California take effect, requiring solar panels on almost all new homes.

U.S. energy employment report: statistics by gender, age, race, and union status

USEER May 2018 reportThe 2018 U.S. Energy & Employment Report (USEER) was released in May, reporting that the traditional Energy and Energy Efficiency sectors employ approximately 6.5 million Americans, with a job growth rate of approximately 133,000 net new jobs in 2017 – approximately 7% of total U.S. new job growth.   The report provides detailed employment data for energy sectors including Electric Power Generation and Fuels Production (including biofuels, solar, wind, hydro and nuclear) and Electricity Transmission, Distribution and Storage. It also includes two energy end-use sectors: Energy Efficiency and Motor Vehicle production (including alternative fuel vehicles and parts production).  It is important to note that, unlike many other sources, this survey includes only direct jobs, and not indirect and induced jobs.

In addition to overall employment totals, the report provides an in-depth view of the hiring difficulty, in-demand occupations, and demographic composition of the workforce – including breakdowns by gender, age, race and by union composition.  As an example for solar electric power generation: “about a third of the solar workforce in 2017 was female, roughly two in ten workers are Hispanic or Latino, and under one in ten are Asian or are Black or African American. In 2017, solar projects involving PV technologies had a higher concentration of workers aged 55 and over, compared to CSP technologies.”

The previous USEER reports for 2016  and 2017  were compiled and published by the U.S. Department of Energy.  In 2018, under the Trump Administration, two non-profit organizations,  the National Association of State Energy Officials and the Energy Futures Initiative, took over the task of compiling the data, using the identical survey instrument developed by the DOE.  Timing was coordinated so that year over year comparisons with the precious surveys are possible.  Peer review of the report was performed by Robert Pollin, (Political Economy Research Institute) and  James Barrett, (Visiting Fellow, American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy).  The overview website, with free data tables at the state level, is here   .

Trump’s solar tariffs may impact solar jobs worldwide

solar installers on roofDonald Trump’s decision to impose tariffs on solar panels and washing machines on January 23  was roundly criticized on many grounds – most frequently, the impact on jobs in the solar industry, as stated in the  New York Times Editorial on January 23 ,“Mr. Trump’s Tariffs will not bring back manufacturing jobs”.   The Times supported their opinion with several articles, including  “Trump’s Solar Tariffs are clouding the industry’s future” (Jan. 23) , which states: “Far more workers are employed in areas that underpin the use of solar technology, such as making steel racks that angle the panels toward the sun. And the bulk of workers in the solar industry install and maintain the projects, a process that is labor-intensive and hard to automate.” The Solar Energy Industries Association in the U.S. response is here, and their Fact Sheet (Feb. 2)  explains the terms and impact of the decision. The Solar Foundation released its 8th annual Jobs Census on February 7, revealing the first-ever year of decline in the number of jobs, but still a census of over 250,000 workers.    For a thorough overview, see the Fact Checker article by the Washington Post,  “Trump says solar tariff will create ‘a lot of jobs.’ But it could wipe out many more” (Jan. 29).

Three Canadian solar companies immediately filed a suit against the tariffs in the U.S. Court of International Trade, arguing that they violate NAFTA. The EU, China, South Korea, and Taiwan have also filed complaints at the World Trade Organization.  For a deeper look at the possible implications for other countries, including Canada, consider the complexity of global trade:  From an excellent overview in  The Energy Mix: “Trump Solar Tariff may be opening salvo in trade war”: “Although China appeared to be Trump’s intended target, the tariff on solar cells and panels will mostly hit workers in other countries. Thanks to dispersed supply chains—and partly in response to previous U.S. tariffs—solar photovoltaic manufacturing is a global industry. Malaysia, South Korea, and Vietnam all hold a larger share of the U.S. market than China does directly. And all are entitled to seek remedies under various trade agreements.”   The Energy Mix item refers to “U.S. tariffs aimed at China and South Korea hit targets worldwide”    in the New York Times (Jan. 23), which adds:  “Suniva, one of the American solar companies that had sought the tariffs, filed for bankruptcy protection last year, citing the effects of Chinese imports. But the majority owner of Suniva is itself Chinese, and the company’s American bankruptcy trustee supported the trade litigation over the objections of the Chinese owners.” From Reuters,  “Why the US decision on solar panels could hit Europe and Asia hard”  states that Goldman Sachs estimated that the tariffs implied “a 3-7 percent cost increase for utility-scale and residential solar costs, respectively …. Two key exclusions with respect to technology and certain countries (Canada/Singapore, among others) were included as part of the (initial) recommendation.” Canadian Solar , founded in Canada but a multinational traded on NASDAQ,  is one the world’s biggest panel manufacturers.

For an overview of the current state of the U.S. renewable energy markets and labour force, including solar, see  In Demand: Clean Energy, Sustainability and the new American Workforce  (Jan. 2018) , co-authored by Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and Meister Consultants Group.  Highlights:  there are  4 million clean energy jobs in the U.S., with wind and solar energy jobs outnumbering  coal and gas jobs in 30 states.  Quoting the IRENA Renewable Energy and Jobs Annual Review for 2017 ,  the In Demand report states that: “The solar industry grew 24.5 percent to employ 260,000 workers, adding jobs at nearly 17 times the rate of the overall economy in 2016.”  The coal industry employs 160,000 workers in the U.S.  In Demand  compiles statistics from the U.S. Department of Energy, International Energy Agency, International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and many others, about current and projected clean energy markets and employment in the U.S.: renewable energy, energy efficiency, alternative vehicles, and energy storage and advanced grid sectors.