By Melissa Segrest
Green Right Now
The latest generation of workers in clean technology jobs aren’t all engineers, tech experts and scientists. They aren’t all in Silicon Valley – some are from Detroit or Gary, Ind.
They may come from community colleges or be fresh out of high school.
Even with the aching economy, venture capital is flowing to clean technologies at a rate rivaling biotech and software investments. The Federal government is pushing for smarter, sustainable and alternative forms of power, transportation and energy efficiency.
Around the world – in Europe, India, Japan and, especially, China – clean technology is a growing job market.
Unlike the high-tech bubble in California, these industries are spread out. Along with the financial analysts and system designers, there are jobs for laborers with new skills – biofuel boiler operators, insulation workers for green buildings or solar energy system installers.
Those are some details from a recently released study of jobs in clean technology industries. Clean Edge, a research and publishing company focused on the clean-tech sector since 2000, looked for the first time at the various jobs associated with these fields, as well as the top areas in the country where the jobs are emerging.
“This is a dispersed revolution, not concentrated in one place, like Silicon Valley during the dot.com boom,” said Ron Pernick, an author of the report and co-founder/managing director of Clean Edge. “It’s in dozens of nodes and places all over the globe. And it’s not just one type of profession, but with all levels of education” and a significant range of jobs.
Clean energy jobs are growing faster than other job sectors, according to Pew research cited in the report. In the solar photo-voltaic field alone, there are more than 200,000 jobs (direct and indirect) worldwide. The wind power area, Clean Edge reports, has more than 400,000 direct and indirect jobs around the globe.
What is clean tech? Companies that in some way use or produce renewable materials and energy sources, reduce use of natural resources (or improve efficiency), and limit or stop pollution and toxic waste, the report said.
Among the 36 jobs sampled:
- A boiler operator in a biofuel/biomaterial company could receive (with some years of related experience) a median annual salary of $61,000 with either a high school or associate’s degree.
- A building maintenance engineer for a “green” building (also with mid-level experience) might be looking at a median pay level of $43,300, again with a high school or associate’s degree.
- At higher levels, in entry-level jobs that call for a bachelor’s degree, a solar energy system designer ‘s median pay is $42,600, while a smart-grid software engineer’s median income is $65,500.
(The job/salary information was determined both by Clean Edge and PayScale, a compensation data publisher. A national median means that half of those doing each job are paid more than the median, and half are paid less.)
Even at entry level, a high school grad or someone with an associate’s degree would need to have some specialized training for the tech jobs. On Clean Edge’s job listings, “those energy efficiency jobs, and solar installation jobs, all of these jobs, at the end of the day, on the manufacturing side, on the installation jobs, they are technical jobs,” Pernick said.
While it is true the San Francisco/Oakland/San Jose metropolitan area is still number one in the study’s clean-tech job activity list Detroit/Ann Arbor, Mich. is 14th on the list of 15.
“Detroit is a great example, and they’re having a difficult time as you know,” said Pernick. In Wixom, Mich., a former Ford plant closed in 2007 is a 320-acre facility that has been purchased by Xtreme Power (wind and solar power systems) and Clairvoyant Energy (solar panel manufacturing). They are planning to reopen the plant in 2011 and could potentially employ thousands, the report said.
In West Branch, Iowa, a hydraulic pump maker laid off 130 workers in 2003. Now wind turbines are being built by 130 employees there, and more hires are planned. In Newton, Iowa, an old Maytag plant for home appliances had laid off 1,800 people in 2007. Now, TPI Composites are making wind turbine blades there and have hired 325 people since 2008, the report says. They are aiming at 500 employees by 2020.
And it’s not just new companies on the clean-tech bandwagon: Big firms such as Siemens have 5,500 working in their wind-business division, and BP has more than 2,200 solar employees.
Of all the clean-tech businesses in the world, four are in the U.S., three are in China and three in the European Union, the report said.. The largest is Vestas Wind Systems in Denmark, with 21,100 employees.
Pressure for more efficient sources of industry coincides with large numbers of retiring employees. The result, according to Pernick, can be found in the example of California’s Pacific Gas & Electric. PG&E “is a company reinventing itself. . . . They need to build out their energy intelligence and clean energy integration because of other forces. But as they’re facing a huge shift in their existing labor pool, they are going to hire people trained in those new arenas.”
But will Americans who don’t like the idea of public funding for new ventures object to stimulus money for clean tech businesses?
“The government has a history of highly subsidized and deregulated energy sources. Coal, nuclear, oil – they’re all highly subsidy-dependent and regulatory dependent. Time has changed, they don’t create a lot of jobs in those industries (non-renewable), they are not providing energy independence,” Pernick said.
That said, Clean Edge’s report offers five models for publicly financing clean-tech jobs. Some have interesting precedents in American history. The Green Bank (officially the Clean Energy Development Administration) proposal is moving through the U.S. House and Senate and receiving bipartisan support. The bank could fund lots of renewable energy, energy efficiency and pollution reducing businesses and leverage lots of private investment as well. In the 19th century, the report says, the government supported private enterprise – the building out of America’s railroads.
Another blast from the past for clean tech support could be a form of “Victory Bonds,” similar to the War Bonds sold to support World War II efforts, the study said. The World Bank and a Scandinavian bank helped raise more than $350 million for “green bonds” in 2008.
Another public-financing idea is the production of more Federal bonds that offer bondholders a tax credit (to some extent) in lieu of interest payments. The report also speaks about Federal loan guarantees and city-administered loan funds — where homeowners could borrow money to be more energy efficient (solar energy cells on their roofs, for example), then repay the loans over a long time via property taxes or utility bills.
Clean-tech companies and financing options are spread across the country, so there will be competition. However, “there are so many players . . . you can try to put together a great package to attract a company (in New York, for example) and they just may end up in Texas or Colorado or Oregon. There’s no way to divine who’s going to get the deal.
“The good news is they (cities) have a chance to get it, and the bad is that there’s a lot of competition,” Pernick said.
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