Green-collar workers — who include everyone from energy-efficiency consultants to wastewater plant operators — constitute a tiny but fast-growing segment of the U.S. economy, according to a study published today by the Pew Charitable Trusts.
The “clean-energy economy” grew 9.1 percent between 1998 and 2007 to 777,000 jobs. While that is just half a percent of all U.S. jobs, the clean-energy economy is poised to grow significantly with financial support from the public and private sectors, the Pew (pdf) concludes.
“The nation’s clean-energy economy is poised for explosive growth,” said Lori Grange, the Pew Center on the States’ interim deputy director. “The trends include surging venture capital investment … a critical growth rate in clean-energy generation, energy efficiency and environmentally friendly products.”
About 80 percent of venture capital investments in 2008 were in the clean energy and energy efficiency sector, broadly known as “cleantech.” And while cleantech slumped with overall venture capital in the first quarter of 2009, the sector outperformed telecommunications, media and other sectors, according to an analysis of Thompson Reuters data by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association.
“[Cleantech] is faring better than the rest of the venture capital sectors — that’s driven by the sense that the government policy thinking has changed radically with the new administration,” said David Prend, a NVCA director and managing general partner at the venture capital firm RockPort Capital Partners.
Indeed, the Pew report cites the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which President Obama signed in February, as a significant force driving the clean-energy economy. The stimulus includes nearly $85 billion in direct spending and tax incentives for energy- and transportation-related programs.
The report finds that job growth in the clean-energy economy outperformed total job growth in 38 states and the District of Columbia between 1998 and 2007, the most recent year for which data are available. The total number of jobs grew 3.7 percent during that period, which included the dot-com boom and bust and the beginning of the current recession.
The nation’s most populous state, California, had the most clean-energy jobs — nearly 17.6 million workers, or about 0.71 percent of its total work force. Texas ranked second, with 11.7 million workers.
On a per capita basis, Oregon had the nation’s most robust clean-energy economy. The Beaver State had more than 1.9 million clean-energy jobs — about 1.02 percent of its total work force. Mississippi ranked last on a per capita basis, with about 1.4 million clean-energy jobs — 0.24 percent of its total work force.
The report defines the clean-energy economy as including 16 sectors: energy generation, energy transmission, energy storage, energy efficiency, transportation, manufacturing/industrial, construction, agriculture, energy production, materials, air and environment, recycling and waste, water and wastewater, business services, finance/investment, and research and advocacy. The authors counted only companies and jobs on the supply side, not the demand side.
“The numbers are probably on the conservative side,” conceded Kil Huh, the report’s lead researcher.