Jobs: Fossil Fuels versus Renewables

Laser Talk

Question:  Won’t making fossil fuels more expensive kill jobs?

Answer: Renewable energy actually creates more jobs than an equivalent amount of fossil energy. Fossil fuel jobs have shrunk mainly because of mechanization, not regulation. For example, in 1980, producing a ton of coal per hour required 52 miners; by 2015 that number dropped to 16. Even though more coal was being mined, coal mining lost 58 percent of its jobs between 1980 and 2015. [1]

In 2018, there were 2.4 million jobs in clean energy and energy efficiency, compared to only about half that many in fossil energy. [2] Even without a price on carbon, installers and service technicians for solar and wind are in such demand that those careers are forecast to grow 11 to 13 times faster than the U.S. average. [3,4]

Our country will still need energy, whether it comes from low- or zero-carbon sources or from the old polluting sources of the past. Today, the energy technologies of the future create more jobs per energy dollar spent than those of the past, and will likely continue to do so even as the new technologies mature. [5] Not only are wind and utility-scale solar power already cost-competitive with electricity from fossil fuels in many locations, [6,7] they provide 50 percent more jobs for the same amount of energy. [8]

And it’s not just renewable energy jobs! A 2017 study of a carbon tax in British Columbia that returns most revenue to taxpayers [9] showed that, over a six-year period, job gains in labor-intensive sectors like retail sales outweighed job losses in energy-intensive sectors like air travel. There were more employment opportunities with the carbon tax than without it.

  1. Saha, D. and S. Liu. “Increased automation guarantees a bleak outlook for Trump’s promises to coal miners.” (25 Jan 2017).
  2. “The 2019 U.S. Energy & Employment Report.” Energy Futures Initiative and National Association of State Energy Officials (2019).
  3. “Occupational Outlook Handbook: Solar Voltaic Installers.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (19 Sep 2019).
  4. “Occupational Outlook Handbook: Wind Turbine Technicians.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (19 Sep 2019).
  5. Kats, G. “How many jobs does clean energy create?” GreenBiz (5 Dec 2016).
  6. “Levelized Cost and Levelized Avoided Cost of New Generation Resources in the Annual Energy Outlook 2018.” U.S. Energy Information Administration (Mar 2018).
  7. “Levelized Cost of Energy and Levelized Cost of Storage 2018.” Lazard Insights (8 Nov 2018).
  8. Wei, M., S. Patadia, and D.M. Kammen. “Putting renewables and energy efficiency to work: How many jobs can the clean energy industry generate in the US?” Energy Policy 38, 919-931 (2010).
  9. Yamazaki, Akio. “Jobs and Climate Policy: Evidence from British Columbia’s Revenue-Neutral Carbon Tax.” Environ. Econ. and Manag., 83(C), 197-216 (May 2017).

This page was last updated on 12/21/19 at 22:18 CST.

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