Report: Clean Energy Employed 113,000 North Carolinians

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Employee looking toward solar panels

Led by strong growth in grid modernization, energy efficiency, and renewable energy, North Carolina added 1,800 net new clean energy jobs in 2019, continuing a pattern of growth in what has become one of the state’s largest employment sectors, according to a new report from E2 (Environmental Entrepreneurs) and the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association (NCSEA).

Nearly 113,000 North Carolinians worked in solar, wind, energy efficiency, grid modernization, energy storage, clean vehicles and other clean energy occupations at the end of last year, according to the new report Clean Jobs North Carolina 2020. That was up from 107,000 in 2017 and 111,000 in 2018, outpacing overall employment growth in North Carolina by nearly 50% over the last two years.

At the end of 2019, clean energy employed more North Carolinians than work as schoolteachers, farmers or bankers and 11 times more than work in fossil fuels.

The COVID-19 related economic downturn wiped out more than 21,000 clean energy jobs through July, however, as office buildings and homes were closed to energy efficiency workers; factories shut down for clean energy equipment manufacturing workers and financing and supply chains issues sidelined solar and other clean energy businesses.

Despite this recent downturn, longer-term trends in clean energy, coupled with smart policies, could get those workers back on the job quickly and keep the industry growing as the economy recovers, according to the report. Clean Jobs North Carolina 2020 comes as the state is preparing to implement promising policies such as Executive Order 80 and the Clean Energy Plan, which are expected to drive new growth, investments and jobs in solar, energy efficiency, electric vehicles and offshore wind.

The report was released as more than 400 North Carolina business, government and civic leaders are gathering virtually on Aug. 20 to discuss the state’s clean economy and how to keep it growing as part of the inaugural North Carolina Clean Economy Summit. The online event was hosted by E2 and co-sponsored by NCSEA, Research Triangle Cleantech Cluster, the North Carolina Outdoor Recreation Coalition, the North Carolina Justice Center, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and EVNoire.

Secretary of the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality, Michael Regan, will deliver opening remarks at the event, which will also feature interactive sessions focused on clean energy, clean transportation, and the outdoor industry, as the state seeks to build back a cleaner, more resilient and more equitable economy after COVID-19.  For more details on the summit see here.

In addition to detailing sector-by-sector employment, Clean Jobs North Carolina 2020 also details jobs down to the city, county, legislative and congressional district levels. See more details at http://www.e2.org/cleanjobsnc.

According to the report, North Carolina continued to outpace neighboring states in clean energy jobs in 2019, despite solid growth in Virginia, South Carolina and Georgia.

Nationwide, North Carolina ranked No. 9 in clean energy jobs last year, behind Ohio and ahead of Virginia. While the state’s biggest concentrations of clean energy jobs were in Charlotte and the Triangle area, more than 25% of the state’s clean energy jobs (nearly 30,000) were in rural areas where large solar operations and some energy efficiency equipment manufacturers have opened in recent years. That made North Carolina the nation’s leader for clean energy jobs in rural areas. In particular, 16,000 North Carolinians in Tier 1 counties were employed in clean energy in 2019—12 times more than fossil fuels.

More details by sector:

  • Energy efficiency is the biggest sector of the state’s clean energy economy, employing 88,000 workers at year-end;
  • Renewable energy employed 12,350 workers, including nearly 9,000 in solar;
  • Jobs related to clean vehicles, including hybrid-electric and electric vehicles, employed 7,100 North Carolinians;
  • Grid and storage companies employed more than 3,700 North Carolinians and had the fastest growth rate of any clean energy occupation, growing at 7.5 percent last year.

Other key findings:

  • Small businesses are the backbone of the clean energy economy in North Carolina. More than 80 percent of all clean energy workers were employed at companies with fewer that 20 workers
  • 1 in 4 construction jobs in North Carolina are in clean energy occupations, from solar installers and site workers to electricians, HVAC technicians, lighting technicians, carpenters and others who work in energy efficiency
  • North Carolina ranks among the Top 10 states in the country for jobs in renewable energy, storage and grid, energy efficiency and clean fuels;
  • North Carolina employs more clean energy workers than the bottom 10 U.S. states combined;
  • Clean energy accounts for 52% of all energy sector jobs in North Carolina.

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