Energy jobs reports say solar dominates coal, but wind is the real winner

Two updated energy jobs reports have been released, and they paint a picture of how the last year has affected different energy sectors. The news is good for wind and natural gas. The news is less good for solar and coal.

The first report, called the  (USEER), comes from the National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO), and it looks at energy jobs across the US in all sectors of the industry.

The second comes from the Solar Foundation, a pro-solar association that tracks jobs with a nation-wide survey from year to year.

According do the USEER, net new energy jobs in the US increased by 133,000. In the “electricity generation and fuels” category, fossil fuels and greenhouse gas-free energy jobs are approaching a half and half split, with 1.1 million jobs in coal, gas, and oil and 800,000 jobs in nuclear and renewable generation jobs.

The wind energy sector was the big winner here, as it employed 107,000 people in 2017, an increase of nearly 6 percent compared to 2016. The nascent battery storage industry “added almost 6,000 new jobs for a 12 percent growth rate in 2017,” the USEER notes. Generation from natural gas added 19,000 jobs and coal-fueled electricity generation did not see any new jobs added or any jobs lost, hanging to 92,000 jobs total.

Those numbers don’t include extraction, which is a big part of fossil fuel use. Solar and wind energy will obviously not include any extraction jobs. Coal mining jobs appear to have slipped from 53,000 jobs in Q2 2016 (PDF) to 51,000 jobs in Q2 2017. Oil and natural gas extraction saw only small increases in the number of people they employ, but petroleum and natural gas extraction are still giant powerhouses in the US economy, employing 510,014 and 312,364 people, respectively.

Compare coal’s roughly 144,000 total jobs to solar, however, and there’s a big difference. “Solar energy firms employed, in whole or in part, 350,000 individuals in 2017, with more than 250,000 of those employees spending the majority of their time on solar,” the USEER report wrote.

The Solar Foundation came up with a similar number in its : 250,271 solar jobs in the US in 2017. In an email, the Foundation noted that the discrepancies come from how solar workers are counted in the two reports: “the defines a ‘solar worker’ as someone who spends 50 percent or more of his or her time working in solar. The USEER includes all those who spend any portion of their time working in solar.” Of those 250,271 solar jobs, the Solar Foundation says 89 percent spend 100 percent of their time on solar-related business.

Ultimately, though, the number of solar jobs was smaller in 2017 than it was in 2016. Solar jobs fell 6 percent by NASEO standards and 3.8 percent by Solar Foundation standards. The bulk of the losses were in residential solar, while utility-scale loses were also substantial. This data tracks with the kind of year that solar had: Tesla bought SolarCity and promptly ended door-to-door sales, while the industry spent much of the second half of 2017 worrying what kind of tariffs would be imposed on foreign panels and cells.

Last February, the Solar Foundation projected that solar jobs growth would slow, but it thought the industry would still add jobs for an increase of 10 percent. That projection seems to have been quite off the mark.

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