April 4th, 2012 at 11:14 pm

OK, this is a little bit silly.  Clearly, whoever wrote this little gotcha piece on something I said today about employment in clean energy isn’t spending enough time up here at OTE, where a couple of weeks ago, I posted this, based on new numbers from a BLS study:

…the number of jobs producing clean energy in the utility sector is small:

Within this industry, electricity generated from wind had the highest employment with 2,200 jobs, followed by biomass with 1,100 jobs, geothermal with 600 jobs, and solar with 400 jobs.

But keep in mind that there are lots more jobs in say, wind and solar, but they’re in other industries, such as manufacturers making solar panels and wind turbines. The small numbers in the utilities partially reflect the fact that here in the US we still get only 8% of our energy from renewables (see chart) and well under 1% from wind or solar (also, it’s my impression that this is a high-productivity endeavor; it just doesn’t take that many people to staff a wind or solar farm).

In other words, the headline to the piece is misleading—it’s not true that “clean energy brings little employment” nor is that what I said.   My point was that the production of clean energy can be capital, as opposed to labor intensive—(in fact, I said “it doesn’t take a ton of people to run these plants”).  But upstream industries, as noted in both the earlier blog post and the quote itself, which cited construction of clean energy plants, can employ a lot more people (i.e., they’re more labor intensive).

And btw, regardless of labor or capital intensivity, we should be investing and producing a lot more renewable energy, and not just the energy itself, but the machines, batteries, solar panels, wind turbines that generate it and the smart grid to distribute it.  Yes there are jobs there, but even were that not the case, it’s essential to our energy future, security, and sustainability.


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3 comments in reply to "Gotcha…Not!"

  1. cwh says:

    Maybe you hit on this elsewhere and I missed it, but it seems to me that (green) energy production should be both as capital and (especially) labor non-intensive as possible, since any costs there have to be borne by the rest of the system.

    Thus, the more Good Jobs that (green) energy production creates, the higher the costs, which in turn must be passed down the line to energy consumers as higher prices, reducing the competitiveness of those industries against other national economies or for the industry itself against substitutes like fossil fuels.

    So, yes, it’s a Good Thing to have industries that create jobs, it strikes me that infrastructure industries should ideally be as low-cost as possible, and there’s a definite lower bound on cost and as well as inherent incentives to optimize for cost (i.e. produce poor-paying jobs) if labor is a major component of the industry.

    After all, a big part of the Green Energy Premise has been front-loading of the fixed cost and low or near-zero variable costs to run it over time (e.g. wind, solar, tidal, geothermal, etc.).

    Or am I still missing something?

  2. D. C. Sessions says:

    Example: my employer (a semiconductor manufacturer) does not produce energy. We don’t even manufacture enegy-production products.

    On the other hand, one of the largest customers for a product that I did help design is a solar-power manufacturer. There’s enough business there to keep several of us employed.

  3. ertdfg says:

    “Yes there are jobs there, but even were that not the case, it’s essential to our energy future, security, and sustainability.”

    So in your view how much money should we waste going with a costlier less efficient option?

    I was thinking we had wasted enough money already chasing a dream with Corn Ethanol for my lifetime; but I guess I’m wrong. Is there a point at which your dream of wasting taxpayer money ends; or do you hope to waste ever increasing amounts of taxpayer money forever?

    Since your goal involves going with costlier less efficient models; should we do this for other sectors? Maybe ban shovels and mandate spoons for construction jobs?

    Or should we only limit efficiency and output for electricity? Are you sure higher priced electricity and lowering supply will help the economy overall?