Energy Efficient Building Events
News and events specific to energy efficient building.
News and events specific to energy efficient building.
So, when we talk about someone employed in “clean energy”, what does that cover? Like “manufacturing”, many things. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) defines and tracks employment by sector, but it’s not the most user-friendly resource. So, while BLS notes that there were nearly 6,000 wind turbine service techs employed in May of 2020, it divides them among five different industries, ranging from utility construction to consulting to local government. Sadly, a BLS plan to categorize and track clean energy jobs begun in 2010 was abandoned in 2013 during a federal budget shutdown, and has never resumed.
More generally, clean energy jobs fall into four broad categories – energy efficiency (home upgrades or commercial building retrofits); renewables (solar, wind, biogas, or geothermal energy); grid and storage (electrical engineering, battery tech, and charging stations); and cleaner vehicles and fuels (hybrid and electric vehicle manufacturing or biofuel production). Altogether, more than 3.3 million Americans work in one of these fields, and it’s worth noting that energy efficiency alone employed more than twice as many people as all fossil energy sectors combined.
Like nearly everybody else, clean energy workers have taken a hit in this economy. About 147,000 jobs were eliminated in March, and April totals nearly tripled that. More than 590,000 jobs in the sector evaporated by April 30th, two months ahead of projections by BW Research. The same analysts now expect around ¼ of all green energy jobs to be gone by June 30th, some 850,000 in all.
Under the circumstances, this isn’t surprising. Homeowners are unlikely to invite insulation crews into their homes in the midst of a pandemic. Financial chaos means that banks are less likely to lend on large-scale clean energy deployments. Cities facing budgets collapsing under tax shortfalls are going to emphasize essential services before clean energy buildouts. And utilities are facing tumbling energy demand. IEA estimates that from February through April, global demand for energy dropped 6%, the equivalent of all of India. American energy demand is set to drop 9%, according to the same report.
Whatever the course of economic contraction and recovery, there are certain irreducible advantages to jobs in these industries. To begin with, they tend to be site-specific. Many renewable energy jobs are unlikely to be outsourced – those building and maintaining a thermal solar plant in Arizona, for example, are going to build and maintain it in that location for its useful life. The same holds true for energy efficiency professionals – the homes and buildings in the United States aren’t going to offshore themselves.
Many skilled green energy jobs pay relatively well, can boost stressed economies and don’t require four-year degrees. Wind turbine techs, for example, exemplify this beneficial clustering. Wind turbines require regular service and maintenance, and wind farms are located largely in rural areas in the Midwest and southern Plains. Technicians tend to live in smaller cities or towns near these sites, supporting the local tax base. Median income for a turbine technician in 2019 was $52,910, which could go a long way in Russell County, Kansas or Alliance, Nebraska. And training for the field takes one or two years, depending on program and specialization. Median income for solar installers was lower, but in 2019 stood at $44,890 per year, and for insulation crews, median income in 2019 was $44,180,
The issue, at least for now, is that the three specific categories mentioned above don’t employ very many Americans – about 75,000 in all in 2018 and 2019, according to BLS. But broaden the focus, and green energy’s economic becomes clearer – and bigger. Wind energy’s total economic footprint alone is already substantial. In 2018, 530 plants in 43 states produced components – blades, nacelles, turbines, gearing and digital control systems. Outsourcing of some of this manufacturing is possible, but given the size and weight of components as turbines grow taller, is likely to remain largely here at home. Moreover, the Department of Energy estimates as many as 600,000 jobs in all subsectors of wind energy in less than 30 years.
This kind of job generation potential is what makes remaking America’s energy system so important to inclusive economic recovery. Utilities, states and cities are already beginning to implement plans to change how we generate and distribute energy in a carbon-constrained world. These efforts have been patchy and slow, and to date unlikely to meet even minimal Paris Agreement standards. But under the right circumstances, policy changes, like technological changes, can happen quickly. Emphasizing the very real benefits of more clean energy jobs may help speed that vital process.
So where, as COVID redefines economies and politics, is the renewable energy sector? What happens over the next few years – to technologies, investments, deployments and incentives – will determine multiple trajectories. These include the jobs of millions of people, how quickly carbon accumulates in the atmosphere and oceans, and the possibility of stranded assets hampering any rapid, substantive switch from old to new.
If you’re thinking purely in terms of dollars and cents, the latest issue of Forbes has a fascinating article. A joint study by the International Energy Agency (IEA) and Imperial College London reviewed returns on energy investments starting in 2009. Combining German and French stock market data, the past five years showed returns of 178% for renewables and -20.7% for fossil energy. UK renewable stocks returned over 75%, legacy energy 8.8%. Here at home, where utility-scale renewable buildouts began later than in Europe, renewable returns were north of 200%, while oil, gas and coal stocks didn’t quite double. Renewable investments proved more stable over the same periods measured. But the same article notes that the biggest fossil energy shareholders – pension funds – are reluctant to disinvest from dividend-rich stocks.
Beyond that, an ostensible renewable energy transition is up against multiple countervailing factors – for starters $900 billion or more in potential “stranded assets” of global fossil energy companies. The oil majors have talked a good game for years now, but the numbers don’t bear out their proclaimed commitments to renewables. Exxon is now in court for, among other things, bragging on its green energy tech while spending less than ½ of 1% of revenues on renewable energy. In 2019, BP projected spending between 3% and 8% (at best) of capex on renewables, and in February the company dumped an advertising campaign highlighting renewables. And so on.
American utilities face the same kinds of stranded asset risks, though only 18% of utility employees view sunk costs in infrastructure as a top worry. But power plants can be ferociously expensive to build. Evergy’s Iatan 2 project, which went online nearly 10 years ago, came in at nearly $2 billion, with state-of-the-art environmental retrofits of the Iatan 1 plant adding to costs. It can take large projects like this decades to pay for themselves; securitizing early retirement of fossil fuel plants can blunt risks to utilities, but so far has only been tried in three states.
Even bigger picture – there’s a substantial inertia built into an energy economy created more than 100 years ago – a vast, complex system that works remarkably well to meet the needs of its customers. To date, renewables are still a small slice of total US electricity output. In 2018, natural gas generated about 35% of our electricity, coal about 27%, nuclear a bit over 19% and all renewables, including hydroelectric, not quite 17%, with niche sources making up the rest.
To be clear, renewable energy’s recent eclipse of coal in the US has been remarkable. In fact, the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) announced the very day this was written that in 2019 consumption of energy produced from renewables passed that produced by coal, the first time per EIA that this has happened since before 1885. But a decarbonized energy economy is still decades away. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) estimates that to even approach climate goals, renewables must increase to around 65% of global Total Primary Energy Supply by 2050 – and we’re nowhere close to that yet. More on all of the above, COVID impacts and the state of play in our next renewable installment.
As we all shift our routines in an effort to stay safe and healthy in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Metropolitan Energy Center is exploring ways to adjust to the new normal. We want you to know we share the collective confusion and frustration of our friends, neighbors, and colleagues. Please remember we are all in this together. Be patient, be kind. And if you need us, we’ll be here, because we have been for over 35 years.
As the situation evolves, we are continually adjusting our response. At this time, our dedicated staff are working from home, in consideration of the CDC recommendations and in compliance with the KC Metro stay-at-home order, effective Tuesday, March 25. We are finding innovative ways to support our communities and continue our technical support for regional alternative fuels and energy efficiency advancements.
Staff can best be reached by email, though phone calls are still welcome and will be routed to the appropriate staff as soon as possible on the day the calls are received.
For scheduled meetings and events:
For projects and project deliverables:
This pandemic is something new for nearly all of us. Some Americans—those 75 and older—will remember the polio epidemic of the 1940s and 1950s. But for most of us, this means making changes in the ways we work, live and travel that we’ve never experienced before.
If there’s any sort of silver lining to this situation, it’s that finding new ways to work and move in the next months may lead to longer-term solutions that can improve health outcomes for everyone. COVID-19 is a respiratory illness, and good respiratory health is critical—now, in dealing with this disease, and for our community’s overall health in the future. MEC has worked for decades to cut toxic emissions with energy efficiency, cleaner fuels, intelligent transportation and building systems, and a cleaner, more efficient freight network. This work continues, with our diverse community and stakeholders in mind, and is more critical today than at any other point in history.
#StayHomeKC. On March 21, elected officials in Jackson, Johnson and Wyandotte counties and the city of Kansas City, Missouri, announced a 30-day stay-at-home order. Other counties in the region have enacted various restrictions to help slow the spread of COVID-19. State and local guidelines are changing rapidly as more cases are confirmed.
For the latest information, check your local health department or city/county websites.
If you should venture away from home, please remember: exhaust irritates lungs. For the sake of those experiencing respiratory difficulty, turn off your engine if you will be waiting for a friend carpooling with you, for car-side delivery service, etc.
Take advantage of your reduced commute time to get outdoors more. Biking, walking and hiking can be done alone, with your pets, or in small groups adhering to social distancing practices.
Some outdoor volunteering opportunities may continue, in small groups adhering to social distancing practices, especially orgs doing wildland management, gardening and cultivation, tree planting, and the like. Carefully evaluate your host’s safety and health policies and practices before signing up. Due to the stay-at-home order, many of these events may be cancelled as well, so contact your host to confirm before showing up.
If you’re a volunteer and miss in-person group volunteering events, stay engaged through GlobalGiving. GlobalGiving’s virtual skilled volunteering platform, GlobalGivingTime, can match you with interesting opportunities from vetted nonprofits around the world, from the convenience of your desk.
Metro KC officials are keeping PrepareMetroKC.org updated as new information becomes available.
As you know, this situation is continually shifting. We will monitor developments to adhere to federal, state and local advisories, and support the region’s efforts to protect the health and safety of the public.
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