Jobs in renewable energy and battery-related sectors were more resilient to last year’s pandemic lockdowns according to a report released by the Department of Energy this week. Some sectors, including wind, electric vehicles, and hybrid electric vehicles even gained jobs.
Reuters reports that the US energy sector lost 840,000 jobs, or 10% of its workforce in 2020 caused by a decrease in demand for transportation fuels due to the pandemic lockdowns. Petroleum and natural gas were the hardest hit and lost 21% of their workforce or 186,000 jobs.
Prior to the pandemic, the combined energy sectors were growing at about 3% per year, compared to 1.5% for the general economy. The report shows that by the end of 2020, the energy sector added back 560,000 jobs or about half of what was lost, already rebounding from the pandemic losses.
The Biden administration wants to boost renewable energy industries as part of the infrastructure package now in Congress. The goal is to revitalize the energy industry and improve wages and union representation in the clean energy business.
Energy jobs across all sectors pay about $25.60 per hour, which is more than the median national hourly wage of $19.14. The jobs in the renewables sector pay less than those in the nuclear energy and fossil fuel sectors. Wind and solar jobs are less likely to be unionized according to the report.
There are discrepancies, however, among the various industries. Workers in the nuclear industry earn a median hourly wage of 39.19 per hour, where wind and solar have median hourly wages of $25.95 and $24.48. Since utility jobs are more likely to be unionized, the pay is generally higher with better benefits.
Part of the discrepancy is due to the fact that the renewable energy industries are newer, meaning that unionization hasn’t had the time to flourish as it has in the older fossil fuel industries. There is also some polarization around the topic of jobs in renewable energy. If the jobs being compared don’t require the same qualifications and experience, it is a false comparison. As we stated in a previous post, jobs with similar responsibilities and qualifications need to be compared to get a better read.
According to Martin Shields, Professor of Economics at Colorado State University, “Modernization of the grid and the installation of new PV (solar) and wind capacity will provide thousands of new, high-paying jobs in manufacturing, installation and maintenance across the country.” In addition, it will create careers in adjacent sectors like manufacturing and IT, and support communities where these jobs are located. Congress just needs to move it forward. The economy and the planet are depending on it.