Solar drove energy sector job growth in 2021, report finds

There are more than 3 million jobs, 40% of total energy jobs, that support reducing U.S. emissions to zero across several sectors, according to the analysis.

Despite headwinds caused by the coronavirus pandemic and supply chain constraints, U.S. energy sector jobs grew by 4% from 2020 to 2021, outpacing overall employment.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) released the 2022 U.S. Energy and Employment Report (USEER), a comprehensive study designed to track and understand employment trends across the energy sector and within key energy technologies. 

Overall, the total number of energy jobs increased, from 7.5 million in 2020 to more than 7.8 million in 2021, after a steep decline in 2020. Despite job growth, energy jobs have still not recovered to pre-pandemic, 2019 levels.

There are more than 3 million jobs, 40% of total energy jobs, that support reducing U.S. emissions to zero across several sectors, according to the analysis, which is based on surveys of approximately 33,000 private energy businesses combined with public labor data.

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Electric power generationThe Duke owned and operated, 912 MW Los Vientos Wind Farm in Texas (Courtesy: Duke Energy)

In 2021, there were 857,579 workers employed in electricity, representing a change of 2.9% from 2020.

Solar primarily drove these changes, increasing by 24,006 workers, which was also the largest percent change (5.4%). Solar has 173,283 jobs in construction, accounting for 27% of all renewable energy employment.

Nuclear was the only technology to lose jobs, decreasing by 2,400 workers or -4.2%.

Wind energy companies employed 120,164 workers in 2021, up 2.9% or 3,347 from 116,817 in 2020. Unlike most energy technologies, wind energy jobs grew from 2019 to 2020. So, despite growth that is slower than the 4.0% for all energy jobs, the 2021 levels are above its 2019 levels.

Wind’s increase from 2019 to 2021 is unusual for both the energy industry and the economy overall. Natural gas, for example, employed 211,773 workers in 2021, 64,151 fewer than in 2019.

Hydropower companies, meanwhile, employed 64,514 workers last year, up 1,383 (2.2%) from 2020, yet down 3,258 jobs from the 67,772 employed in 2019.

Notably, 98% of hydropower construction companies surveyed said that hiring was very difficult, a sentiment shared by the broader electricity generation sector.

Over 92% of employers reported finding qualified workers as “very difficult” or “somewhat difficult” with 40% claiming it is very difficult.

Electricity is less diverse than the rest of the economy in terms of gender; males make up 69% of the workforce, more than the 53% U.S. average, the report noted. However, the portion of non-White workers in electricity is 30%, higher than the national workforce average of 22%.

Transmission, distribution, and storage 

The transmission, distribution and storage (TDS) sector grew by 21,460 jobs, or 1.6%, and is one of two USEER categories that does not contain a technology that lost jobs in 2021.

Traditional transmission, the largest TDS technology, added the most jobs of any category, 13,088 (1.4%), although smart grid grew by the greatest percentage, increasing 4.9% (1,136 new jobs).

Renewable energy and efficiency enabling TDS jobs increased by 5,093, or 4.2%—faster than TDS as a whole.

Battery storage had the most jobs within storage, employing 69,698 workers. This is nearly nine times the 7,901 employed in pumped storage hydropower, the next storage sector in terms of jobs. Employment in “other” technologies, excluding coal which did not employ anyone, ranged from 42 in nuclear storage to 1,867 in mechanical storage.

Racially, TDS is more non-White than national averages. The percent of non-White workers is higher than the national average (32% compared to 22%).

State-level highlights
  • Michigan gained 35,463 net jobs, which includes 5,136 new jobs in low or zero-carbon motor vehicles.
  • Texas gained 30,903 net jobs, which includes 4,858 new jobs in low or zero-carbon motor vehicles, 6,771 new jobs in in energy efficiency, and 1,610 new jobs in solar. 
  • California gained 29,429 energy jobs, which includes 11,050 new jobs in in low or zero-carbon motor vehicles, 5,949 new jobs in energy efficiency, and 1,994 new jobs in solar.
  • West Virginia and Pennsylvania added the most jobs in transmission, distribution, and storage, gaining 7,321 and 5,726 new jobs, respectively. 
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