Sustainability Energy

Renewable energy sector saw job growth in 2021: report

From 2020 to 2021, jobs in the renewable energy sector increased and now accounts for around 40 percent of all energy jobs in the country.
solar panels
Solar panels are seen on a farm in Thurmont, Maryland. The Associated Press/ Julio Cortez

Story at a glance

  • The COVID-19 pandemic led to large shifts in the energy economy. 

  • In 2021, a rebound in clean energy production was seen, particularly with regard to electric vehicle manufacturing. 

  • A new report from the Department of Energy outlines state-by-state gains and shifts in specific sectors.

Despite a recent setback for regulators working to curb greenhouse gas emissions, a new report from the Department of Energy (DOE) found that in 2021, green energy jobs were on the rise. 

The United States aims to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, meaning the country will prevent or take out the same amount of pollution from the atmosphere that it produces.

Following the economic shifts resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, 2021 saw a 4 percent growth in overall energy jobs, outpacing that of the entire economy, which grew at 2.8 percent. 

Of the 7.8 million energy sector jobs in the U.S. in 2021, more than 3 million were in net-zero emissions-aligned areas, according to the report, accounting for 41 percent of the total.

These areas include jobs related to renewable energy, grid technologies and storage, nuclear energy and biofuels, among others. 

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A decrease in the number of fossil energy jobs was also seen alongside the increase in net-zero aligned areas. The petroleum sector experienced a loss of more than 31,000 jobs, while coal led the fossil energy industry with the biggest percentage decrease of 11.8 percent. 

Furthermore, “jobs in carbon-reducing motor vehicles and component parts technologies grew a collective 25 [percent], led by 23,577 new jobs in hybrid electric vehicles (19.7 [percent] growth) and 21,961 jobs in electric vehicles (26.2 [percent] growth),” authors wrote. 

On a state-by-state basis, Nebraska, Minnesota and Iowa saw the fastest growth in electric power generation technologies.

“In 2021, solar had the largest gains, both in terms of new jobs (17,212) and percent growth (5.4%),” researchers found, adding nuclear electric power generation experienced an employment decline.

As the report reflects figures from 2021, any progress made since the passing of President Biden’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act was not reflected in the numbers. Under the act, $65 billion will be invested into clean energy transmission projects. 

However, some caution the growth in renewable energy might not persist into 2022 due in part to continued recovery from COVID-19 and the economic strains from the war in Ukraine. 

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