Over the past few years, “green jobs” and the “clean economy” have become the growth mantra for a wide variety of energy, climate, and economic policy advocates. Much of this excitement has been productive and justified, but some of it has been misinformed. Few reports have shed more light on this debate than the new study by the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program, “Sizing the Clean Economy: A National and Regional Green Jobs Assessment.”
The report offers a plethora of data and analysis, and several commentators have already weighed in with various interpretations (see Bryan Walsh at TIME). But one of the key conclusions worth highlighting is that the driving force behind the U.S. “clean economy” over the last decade has been emerging energy technologies –- not in other “green” sectors related to buildings and home weatherization, energy-saving consumer products, or efficient appliances (as some advocates predicted). In other words, emerging energy technologies appear to have the greatest job and export growth potential, and this carries important implications for U.S. policy priorities — a conclusion recently echoed in Google’s energy innovation report.
Brookings defines the “clean economy” as a very broad range of goods and services that provide environmental benefit, including everything from electric vehicle technologies to organic foods and waste management (see list below). As it explains, the report is “the first study of the U.S. clean economy to provide timely information that is both comprehensive enough in its scope and detailed enough in its categorization to inform national, state, and regional leaders on the recent employment dynamics of the U.S. low-carbon and environmental goods and services super-sector…”
According to the data, the highest job growth and export intensity in the overall clean economy between 2003-2010 was primarily in emerging energy technologies. Out of the 39 measured sectors, the top eight with the greatest relative job growth were all energy-related: wave/ocean power, solar thermal, wind, carbon storage and management, solar PV, fuel cells, biofuels, and smart grid. In terms of export intensity, seven of the top eight sectors were energy technologies: biofuels/biomass, electric vehicle technology, battery technology, wind, solar PV, and fuel cells. The most export-intensive “category” of sectors was renewable energy technologies, at $64,884 in exports per job, compared to only $20,129 for the aggregate clean economy.