Fossil Has More than 50% of Energy Industry Jobs yet Renewables Drive Future

June 2017

In 2016, according to a U.S. Department of Energy and Employment report, 56% of energy industry jobs involved in power creation stemmed from oil, natural gas, and coal. Solar had the most jobs in the renewables space and was second only to oil in total jobs. Future energy sector job growth will be driven primarily by renewables.

Key Details

For this U.S. Department of Energy and Employment report’s analysis, energy industry jobs involved in power creation are defined as those employed in electric power generation, mining, and other fuel extraction activities. As shown in the diagram below, in 2016, 1.9 million Americans fit this profile. The oil sector was #1 with slightly more than a half million workers, with natural gas as #2 at nearly 400,000. Solar was #3 followed by coal. For context, approximately 144 million Americans (with some variation each month) were employed in total in 2016 per U.S. Department of Labor.

While low in total compared to overall U.S. employment, energy jobs are highly influential at the state level since they are not spread equally across the United States, thereby receiving increased attention from elected representatives of those states:

  • Though supporting fewer total fossil jobs, the coal industry employed a disproportionate share of workers in two states—Wyoming and West Virginia. In Wyoming, nearly 300 of every 10,000 workers (or 3%) were employed in coal-based power generation and coal mining last year. In West Virginia, the coal industry accounted for 2% of
  • California, a state with robust renewable energy standards and installation incentives, had the highest rate of solar power jobs per capita. In 2016, roughly 84 of every 10,000 workers in the state held full- or part-time jobs in solar. Nevada came in a close second, followed by Hawaii, Vermont, and Massachusetts.
  • Midwest states, like Iowa, and Great Plains states, such as Texas, had the highest rates of wind energy employment.
  • From 2014-2024, the U.S. Department of Labor predicts wind turbine technician as the fastest-growing job in America with 108% growth expected versus 7% for all U.S. occupations and 6% for installation, maintenance, and repair occupations.

Power creation is not the only source of energy employment. The Energy Department report stated 2.3 million additional jobs were in energy transmission, storage, and distribution; a number that includes powerline and pipeline workers and more than 900,000 retail jobs, such as gas station workers and fuel dealers. If non-traditional energy workers are included in the mix—those in manufacturing and installing energy-efficient products—the total energy-related job count reaches 6.4 million.

Implications

Declining oil and natural gas prices, coal plant and mine closings, and the growing availability of renewable-sourced energy collectively continues to have the greatest effect on U.S. energy employment. Ongoing political divisions will exacerbate the attention paid to the U.S. energy industry employment, potentially accentuated by leaders from a few states where the energy jobs are concentrated and more influential, such as in California due to renewables and West Virginia due to coal.

More Information

Fast Company: Solar Now Provides Twice as Many Jobs as the Coal Industry

The New York Times: Today’s Energy Jobs Are in Solar, Not Coal

Forbes: Memo to The NY Times – If Solar Creates Many Jobs Then Solar Is Expensive

This report is part of the Fossil Minute series. To view all featured Fossil Minutes, please click here.

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Contributing Authors

Harold Lewis Manager

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