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Positioning the U.S. as a Model for Clean Job Creation

Image: NREL

As national energy policies pivot towards large-scale renewable energy generation, job creation represents an integral piece of the energy transition puzzle. Fossil fuels remain a key driver of national employment and economic development on the African continent. In coal-dependent South Africa, for example, coal mining accounts for roughly 19% of total mining jobs. As a result, the transition away from centralized, fossil fuel-based power generation and towards a more distributed, reduced carbon footprint must account for retaining local jobs. The U.S. clean energy industry, for its part, could serve as a model for African economies, having catalyzed renewable energy development as a tool for sustainable job creation, social inclusiveness and economic prosperity.

In the U.S., clean energy represents the leading job creator across the national energy sector, employing nearly three times as many workers as fossil fuel extraction and generation. The American Clean Power Association’s Clean Power Annual Report, released last July, indicates record level growth and investment across the U.S. renewable industry, following 26 GW of clean energy projects that came online in 2020. More than three million people in the U.S. are employed in the clean energy economy, and wind turbine technician and solar installer are the country’s first and third-fastest growing occupations, respectively.

The U.S.’ success in growing clean energy jobs is owed in part to supportive national policies and regulations, which have sought to create over one million new clean energy jobs by 2030. Since taking office, U.S. President Joe Biden has called for large-scale public investments into clean energy industries, infrastructure, technology and innovation, with a view to increasing opportunities for long-term, skilled and unionized sources of employment. In addition to driving job creation within new and emerging zero-carbon industries, policies aim to expand employment opportunities within existing industries that service the clean energy economy, including transportation, infrastructure and manufacturing, and promote local hiring and equitable access to good jobs.

In terms of COVID-19’s impact on clean energy employment, the global renewable sector suffered fewer job losses than its fossil fuel counterpart, likely because the scope of activity in renewable energy installation and maintenance is broader than oil and gas exploration, causing some components of the value chain to retain functioning throughout the pandemic. Meanwhile, grid-connected renewables proved more resilient than off-grid when it comes to the workforce. The International Renewable Energy Agency found that utility-scale wind and solar ventures were less affected by the pandemic than solar rooftop systems and other off-grid solutions, as social distancing measures and restricted household budgets worked to constrain large-scale projects. As a whole, energy generated through renewable plants boasts a higher number of jobs created per unit of energy produced than per unit of energy produced through conventional sources like fossil fuels. By adopting a strategic approach to renewable development that is supported by strong public policy, African countries will be able to reap the benefits of clean energy not only in regard to the environment and electricity access, but also to job creation and local economic growth.

Energy Capital & Power (ECP) – in partnership with the African Energy Chamber’s U.S.-Africa Committee – invites U.S. companies, investors and organizations to participate in the first-ever U.S.-Africa Energy Forum (USAEF) (December 9-10, 2021, Houston, Texas), introducing American companies to African opportunities. To learn more about how U.S. firms can advance the agenda of sustainable, long-term investment in African energy, please visit www.energycapitalpower.com. To sponsor, speak or attend USAEF 2021, please contact Senior Director James Chester at james@energycapitalpower.com

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Grace Goodrich

Grace Goodrich

Grace Goodrich is a Field Editor at ECP, where she writes about the intersection of energy, policy and global finance in sub-Saharan Africa's fastest-growing economies. Grace produces our Africa Energy Series investment reports in Angola and Equatorial Guinea (2019), as well as co-authored African Energy Chamber: Road to Recovery (2021).

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