Few industries in the U.S. are growing as fast as renewable energy. As a result, renewable energy jobs are growing rapidly in everything from manufacturing to installation to maintenance. Workers with the right skills in the right location have a chance to not only find work but grow along with an emerging industry.
Companies like SolarCity (NASDAQ: SCTY), Vivint Solar (NYSE:VSLR), SunPower (NASDAQ:SPWR), and General Electric (NYSE:GE) are just a few of the fast growing renewable energy companies, creating the renewable energy infrastructure that is providing cleaner energy and jobs for the U.S.
As the industry grows, it'll snowball: lowering the cost of energy for everyone and creating even more jobs. Here's what you need to know about the industry.
Renewable energy job growth is astounding
To start, let's put the global renewable energy industry in some perspective. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency's Renewable Energy and Jobs-Annual Review 2014, there are 6.5 million people employed in renewable energy around the globe. Leading the way was 2.3 million people employed in the solar industry.
In the U.S., according to Environmental Entrepreneurs, there were 80,000 clean energy jobs created in 2013 and another 36,100 have been announced through the first three quarters of 2014.
The number of U.S. solar industry jobs grew 20% last year to 143,000, according to The Solar Foundation -- 10 times the national average growth rate. In 2014, the number of jobs is expected to grow another 16% to 165,000.
The bottom line is job growth in renewable energy is strong and the industry continues to grow as costs fall.
Where the jobs are
Most of the renewable energy industry is currently concentrated in the Southwestern U.S. and Hawaii. California has an astounding 15,397 renewable energy projects announced, under construction, or in operation. Texas follows with 6,368 projects and Hawaii has 5,748 projects. Hawaii leads the country in solar rooftop systems per capita, a big driver of employment in the industry.
California and Hawaii have strong solar resources and Texas has abundant wind, which is driving renewable energy in those states. But what's changed of late is the growth of renewable energy in the Northeast. Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey have put in positive policies and incentives for renewable energy, changing the landscape there. There are also shifts in the kind of renewable energy jobs being created, growing beyond just installing and maintaining projects. Companies like Tesla Motors (NASDAQ:TSLA), SolarCity, and even GE are building renewable energy manufacturing plants in the U.S. That's something that wasn't happening a decade ago.
The companies looking for new workers
Two of the fastest growing renewable energy companies in the U.S. are SolarCity and Vivint Solar. They're rapidly adding installation and sales jobs as they spread around the country, installing solar on rooftops. These are medium skill jobs and installers may need electrician experience, but they're not exactly high-tech. The same goes for installing wind turbines, which has become routine for companies like GE.
Where the interesting job growth is taking place is in manufacturing. Tesla Motors announced its gigafactory will employ around 6,500 direct workers and could add another 15,000 indirect jobs in Nevada. SolarCity's gigafactory in upstate New York promises 3,000 jobs in Buffalo and 5,000 jobs statewide. We could also see SunPower announce a manufacturing facility in the U.S. in coming months, which would be another big job creator in solar manufacturing.
The bottom line is that the breadth of renewable energy jobs is growing from just installing projects to every part of the supply chain here in the U.S. This will drive more installations, more innovation, and even better policy for renewable energy companies as politicians support local jobs as they have in Nevada and New York.
How renewable energy jobs are changing America
Job growth in double digits is impressive for any industry. But in renewable energy, it may just be the start of a long-term trend. Costs for wind farms and solar installations are falling, making them more competitive with the grid and increasing demand. According to GTM Research, 67% of new electricity generation built in the U.S. in the first half of 2014 was wind or solar. Installations will need to grow as coal plants are shut down and nuclear plants age beyond their useful life.
Renewable energy is a booming business and that's a big opportunity for investors and job seekers alike.