The Clean Economy Employs More Workers Than Fossil Fuels

Clean EconomyBy Katie Fehrenbacher at GigaOm

The green technology and clean power industries are currently employing more workers than their dirty fossil fuel peers. That's according to a report released from the Brookings Institution, which has crunched the numbers of jobs created in the U.S. by sectors like solar, wind, waste water recycling, public transportation and energy efficiency retrofits.

At 2.7 million jobs, the clean economy -- which Brookings defines as sectors that produce goods and services with an environmental benefit -- also employs more workers than the biosciences industry, though not as many jobs created via information technology. Brookings crunched these numbers via each county (see image), which is one of the first times this kind of study has been done.

Beyond being relatively large, the clean economy has more manufacturing jobs than the rest of the U.S. workforce, with 26 percent of clean energy jobs having to do with manufacturing, compared to 9 percent for the rest of the U.S. job market. Clean energy manufacturing jobs include positions like producing electric cars, bio chemicals, and LED lighting.

Clean economy jobs also are offering significant opportunities and relatively high wages for low skilled workers (ie. "green collar jobs"), like jobs installing solar panels, working in factories producing cleantech goods, and doing home retrofits. In addition, jobs in solar, and the smart grid grew at a faster pace than the rest of the economy.

However, the clean economy was significantly effected by the real estate crash of 2007 and 2008, and jobs in sectors that install energy efficiency tech for buildings and green construction products saw layoffs. Factoring in these building-related sectors, the clean economy grew at a slower rate than the overall economy between 2003 and 2010.

To help boost the clean energy economy even more, the Brookings report suggests that Congress could pass a national clean energy standard, put a price on carbon, use the government as a chief customer of cleantech goods (Obama has been strong on this), find more ways to help proven clean technologies pass the so-called Valley of Death, as well as increase funding for basic science and early-stage high risk projects (like the Department of Energy's ARPA-E program).

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