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Clean Tech Job Trends 2010

The following is an excerpt from Clean Tech Job Trends 2010. To read the full report, please download the PDF file by clicking on the link to the left.

By almost all measures, the global economy continues to be in historically dire shape – and some still fear a double-dip recession. This economic malaise doesn't bode well for those seeking decent, high-paying jobs. Overall unemployment rates in the United States and Europe hover around 10 percent, with rates much higher if you count those who have stopped looking for jobs altogether. Globally, the youth unemployment rate (defined as active youth between the ages of 15 and 24) is at a record high, according to the United Nations International Labour Organization, climbing from 11.9 percent in 2007 to 13 percent in 2009. At the same time, many regional and national governments continue to experience massive budget shortfalls and some are taking drastic actions with regards to public staffing. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, for example, facing an unprecedented $19 billion budget shortfall in his state, started furloughing public workers earlier this year, forcing mandatory, unpaid days off for many public employees in a battle that has landed the state in court. These are just some of the devastating realities coming out of The Great Recession. 

Against this backdrop, clean energy continues to fuel the plans of many cities, states, nations, investors, and companies as they look for the next wave of innovation and growth. And on many counts, the clean-energy sector is delivering new job and economic opportunities, as it moves from a once-marginalized niche to an increasingly cost-competitive, mainstream offering. There are many challenges facing the sector, but clean energy and more broadly, clean tech, offer some of the largest growth opportunities on the global economic horizon. As we highlight in this report, green jobs can pay well and span the spectrum from "green-collar" trade jobs to Ph.D.-level engineers.

Green-job naysayers often question the validity of green jobs, stating that there's no clear definition for what constitutes a green job and that any new jobs in clean tech simply displace jobs from other sectors, creating no new net jobs. But clean-tech jobs are not amorphous as these critics claim, and instead represent some of the most dynamic sectors in the technology landscape, including electric vehicles (cars, trucks, and rail), energy storage, green-building materials, advanced lighting, solar power, wind energy, and the smart grid. A Political Economy Research Institute report released in late 2008, Green Recovery, estimated that $100 billion spent on clean energy over a 10-year period could create two million new jobs, compared to just 500,000 jobs if the money were invested in oil and gas-related industries. The Center for American Progress, in a related Green Jobs 101 fact sheet, states that “renewable energy and efficiency improvements create twice as many jobs per unit of energy and per dollar invested than traditional fossil fuel-based generating technologies.” In other words, money invested in clean energy, based on these estimates, creates two to four jobs for every one job created if the money were spent on fossil fuel industries. 

Industrial leaders in the U.S., China, South Korea, Germany, Japan, and other nations, responding to this opportunity, are now vying for clean-tech leadership and the jobs that come with it. According to Clean Edge research, the solar PV industry alone now represents approximately 300,000 direct and indirect jobs globally, while the wind-power sector includes more than 500,000 direct and indirect jobs worldwide. The Renewables 2010 Global Status Report, the highly-regarded annual publication from global research group REN21, shows that total jobs in renewable energy industries exceeded three million globally in 2009. According to the report, Brazil and China account for the largest share of renewables employment globally, representing more than 700,000 and 250,000 respectively in the bioethanol and solar hot water industries alone. According to the report's findings, many of these jobs can't be exported, as they are based heavily on local jobs in installation, operations, and maintenance.

As clean energy becomes increasingly embedded in nations' economies, how will it impact job growth? According to an August 2010 article in the New York Times, Portugal is on track to get 45 percent of its grid electricity from renewables this year. Clean-energy research firm IHS Emerging Energy Research projects that other countries will soon join this club, with Ireland, Denmark, and Britain on pace to getting 40 percent or more of their electricity from renewable sources by 2025. While this alone doesn't guarantee massive job creation (Portugal's unemployment rate stands at around 11 percent), it does represent a significant opportunity for business creation and long-term competitiveness. Portugal, for example, is now home to a number of large global renewable-energy companies as a result of its clean-energy push, including publicly traded EDP Renováveis, one of the world's largest producers of wind-generated electricity – and the nation is weaning itself off of expensive and volatile foreign sources of energy.

In the following pages of this year's Clean-Tech Job Trends report, we highlight:

  • where clean-tech jobs are being created, including the Top 15 U.S. metro areas for clean-tech job activity;
  • how much clean-tech jobs pay, including our annual survey of compensation levels for dozens of job titles (completed in collaboration with compensation specialist PayScale);
  • where clean-tech jobs are being created, including the Top 15 U.S. metro areas for clean-tech job activity;
  • global manufacturing hotspots, and how nations are vying for clean-tech leadership;
  • five major trends that we see reshaping the clean-tech jobs landscape;
  • how China, the U.S., and other nations can compete effectively for clean-tech job creation. 

Finally, at the end of the report, we provide an online resource guide for clean-tech job seekers and employers alike – with references to clean-tech books, reports, web sites, jobs boards, job fairs, networking organizations, educational programs from trade schools to MBAs, and more. We hope that our second annual Clean-Tech Job Trends report is a useful guide for investors, economic developers, policy makers, employers, and job seekers as the transition to a clean-tech economy moves forward.

Download full report | Charts and tables