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Green Jobs are Sprouting Up. Will It Last?

Solar jobs are hot and growing faster than those in the fossil fuel sector. That’s according to the International Renewable Energy Agency, which said that more than 8 million around the globe had jobs in the clean tech sector in 2015.

Proponents of national investment in the green economy will tell us that the money has paid off while critics will say that it is happening because of taxpayer-funded subsidies. But public policy is a function of democratically-run elections, at least in those areas of the globe where free elections exist. To that end, public officials represent the will of the people. Still, there are critical follow up questions, such as whether the jobs are temporary or permanent as well as to recognize that fossil fuels play a far bigger role in national economies in terms of running their cars and power plants.

“We are seeing remarkable positive trends in the competitiveness of renewables worldwide,” says Adnan Z. Amin Director-General International Renewable Energy Agency, in a speech. “We are consistently seeing renewable electricity either at grid parity or beating conventional energy on the grid in more and more markets around the world.”

What he goes on to say is that this is the “golden age” of renewables and he would expect to see exponential growth in jobs — as much as 24 million people around the world working in clean tech by 2023. That’s if global climate pact COP21 is carried out.

Here in the United States, the trends are similar, although critics will say that it is because of subsidies given to renewables while proponents will say that market forces are driving the shift. In other words, consumers are demanding it, technology companies are providing it and policymakers are stepping up.

“As technology is advanced and the cost curves have come down, I think policy plays much less of a role now in advancing the ball,” says Ron Litzinger, president of the Edison Energy Group, at a conference moderated by this reporter on behalf of Energy Manager Today and Environmental Leader. And customers see that you can do it cost effectively now, with today’s technology. And that is ramping up the demand.”

That means jobs — in the corporate world, all to keep up with those developments: 769,000 in the United States, says the International Renewable Energy Agency. That includes 209,000 in solar and 88,000 in wind.

Regardless of what one may think, President Obama has taken decisive positions that will leave a mark on the nation, perhaps most notably in the energy and the environmental areas. Indeed, it has been Mr. Obama’s original economic stimulus into the New Energy Economy that started things off — the more than $1 trillion invested into green energy technologies and the smart grid, all intended to create economies of scale and new job opportunities.

“Seven years ago, we made the single biggest investment in clean energy in our history,” the president said during his State of the Union in January. “In fields from Iowa to Texas, wind power is now cheaper than dirtier, conventional power. On rooftops from Arizona to New York, solar is saving Americans tens of millions of dollars a year on their energy bills, and employs more Americans than coal …”

But don’t count out fossil fuels, especially natural gas that is slowly but surely overtaking coal as the leading fuel to create electricity — a function, in part, of the Clean Power Plan that requires a 32 percent cut in carbon emissions by 2030, from 2005 levels. And natural gas liquids are also in demand, helping to recruit global manufacturers and chemical makers that are attracted by the abundance and costs of shale gas in the United States.

As such, public investment in renewable fuels and private investment in shale gas development can share in the credit for a US economic revival: There will be 930,000 shale-gas driven jobs by 2030 and 1.4 million by 2040, says PriceWaterHouseCoopers.

There’s at least 2,515 trillion cubic feet of proven natural gas reserves in this country, amounting to a century’s worth, according to the Potential Gas Committee. Prices are now slightly more than $2 per million Btus – much less than what the Europeans or Asians are paying. And in the heart of heating season late this year, they are not expected to go much higher.

The American manufacturing and chemical industries are thriving as a result of cheap natural gas, while their foreign counterparts are investing billions here as well. Witness the rebirth of petrochemical plants all over this country — the equivalent of $258 billion in new manufacturing output by 2020 and $328 billion by 2025, says the American Chemistry Council.

Does the growth in natural gas conflict with that of renewables? Environmentalists would say that it does — that the earth is warming and that natural gas is fossil fuel that doesn’t help the cause. They want more and more national investment in green energy.

But President Obama suggest that the two go hand-in-hand — that natural gas is fueling economic growth here while also lessening its overall emissions. His New Energy Economy is thus defined broadly as not just renewable technologies but also cleaner fossil fuels.

“Companies want resiliency,” says Scott Samuelsen, who leads the University of California at Irvine’s Advanced Power and Energy Program. “The second driver is sustainability.”

The bottom line is that the modern technologies are giving companies environmental advantages that are creating goodwill in the communities where they operate. And it means jobs, especially in the green sector.


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