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Reports shows job potential in US renewable energy sector

Four of the top publicly-traded clean tech employers in the United States are renewable energy companies from abroad.

Vestas Wind Systems of Denmark has 21,100 employees in the USA, according to ‘Clean Tech Job Trends 2009' produced annually by Clean Edge. LDK Solar of China is next with 14,100 employees, while Suntech Power of China is in fourth spot with 9000 employees. Gamesa of Spain is ranked #8 with 7200 workers, while SunPower of California (5400 employees) is the only US-based clean-tech, renewable energy employer in the USA.

“The unprecedented level of interest and activity in clean-tech jobs is considerable, but there’s a reason for it,” the report explains. “Many believe we are just at the beginning of the clean-tech jobs creation era, with clean tech offering the greatest opportunity for wealth and job creation (and global economic competitiveness) since the advent of the computer and the Internet.”

The report highlights five trends which are reshaping the landscape for clean-tech jobs, including how conservation and efficiency are creating thousands of new jobs and how utilities are replacing their aging workforce with new workers trained in clean-tech and the smart grid. It also examines a number of “emerging public financing models, such as Victory Bonds and the Green Bank, that could help fuel the next wave of innovation and job growth in clean-tech.”

Clean-tech jobs are defined as those that are a direct result of the development, production or deployment of technologies that harness renewable materials and energy sources; reduce the use of natural resources by using them more efficiently and productively; and cut or eliminate pollution and toxic wastes.

“While some of these jobs may seem exotic, they are increasingly becoming the norm,” it explains, with the top five sectors for clean-tech job activity in the USA (based on a combination of job placements, job postings and public / private investments) are solar, biofuels and biomaterials, conservation and efficiency, smart grid and wind power. When ranked by activity in the USA, solar scores top, biofuels & biomaterials, conservation & efficiency, smart grid and wind power in fifth spot.

The clean-tech sector is one of the largest recipients of venture capital funding, with clean energy alone taking US$3.35 billion last year. Globally, VC and private equity totalled US$13.5bn in clean-energy investments last year.

“Private investments, while declining in 2009 and certainly under pressure in the current economic climate, are creating jobs among a host of startups” in solar and wind. A report from Pew Charitable Trusts in June found that clean-tech jobs accounted for 0.5% of total US employment or 770,000 jobs in 2007.

“While this number might seem small, it falls into a comparable sphere with such mature US industries as biotech (200,000), telecommunications (989,000) and traditional energy (1.3 million), with clean-energy jobs growing faster than other sectors, increasing by 9.1% from 1998 to 2007 compared to 3.7% growth for all US jobs over that same time period."

The solar PV industry alone represents 200,000 direct and indirect jobs around the world, the report estimates, while the wind sector includes 400,000 direct and indirect jobs globally.

The top metropolitan areas for clean-tech job activity include San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose, Los Angeles-Riverside-Orange County, New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, Boston-Worcester-Lawrence-Lowell-Brockton, Washington-Baltimore, Denver-Boulder-Greeley, Seattle-Tacoma-Bremerton, Portland-Salem, Chicago-Gary-Kenosha, Sacramento-Yolo County, San Diego, Austin-San Marcos, Phoenix, Detroit-Ann Arbor, and Houston-Galveston-Brazoria.

“We stand at a unique crossroads,” it concludes. “The recent global financial crisis has been disastrous for already struggling old-line industries in the USA, with the bankruptcy of General Motors heading a long list of business and employment woes.”

“We believe this crisis can accelerate the transition to a clean-energy economy, with the creation of millions of new jobs in a wide range of clean-tech sectors. Those countries that take an active role will move out of the current crisis better positioned to lead in the next industrial revolution: clean technologies.”

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