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Career Outlook Good for Green Jobs

Jan 11, 2010

The Obama administration just announced a multi-billion dollar award for clean energy manufacturing projects. Funding 183 separate projects across the U.S., the tax credits aim to benefit the environment as well as the economy by creating tens of thousands of new 'clean tech' jobs.

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The growth of an industry

Watching the Growth of the Green Movement

Over the past year, 'green' studies have exploded at colleges and universities across the country. Schools from MIT to Arizona State University have developed programs at all levels in sustainability, clean energy and global environmental change.

Interested in pursuing a green major? Click here to learn more about the latest programs in the field.

The growth of green energy careers over the past decade

From page 16 of 'The Clean Energy Economy', a Pew Charitable Trust report.

The green education movement has been largely driven by increasing demands in the workforce. At a time when most sectors of the American economy are slowing, green industries are projected to see a major boom. The Pew Charitable Trust reports that the clean energy economy grew by 9.1% between 1998 and 2007, compared to growth of just 3.7% in traditional jobs, and the future of the industry looks brighter still. The Obama administration has estimated that occupations in clean energy and sustainability will grow by an impressive 52% between 2000 and 2016. With other careers only expected to see a workforce increase of 14% in the same time period, the green sector is becoming increasingly attractive to students, mid-career changers and pretty much any type of job seeker.

Wind turbine field

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Boosting Sustainable Industries

Last week, the President made an announcement that made a green career even more attractive: Hoping to create 17,000 new jobs, the White House awarded $2.3 billion in Recovery Act Advanced Energy Manufacturing Tax Credits for clean energy manufacturing projects. The funds, which come from the $787 billion American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA), have been awarded to 183 projects in 43 states. In addition to these federal tax credits, the projects have attracted $5.4 billion in private financing, which could create up to 41,000 more jobs.

The projects span the entire range of clean energy technology, including wind and solar energy and efficiency and energy management. The 183 finalists were chosen from 500 applications based on a number of criteria, including technological innovation, potential for job creation and geographical diversity. Preference was also given to projects deemed 'shovel ready,' which were typically those that had their permits in place and were ready to get started. Some of the technologies that should benefit from the tax credits include:

  • Wind Energy: TPI Composites will build a new factory in Nebraska to manufacture 'next generation' wind turbine blades. The same company will also expand another factory in Iowa to increase output of composite wind turbine blades.
  • Solar Energy: PPG Industries will develop an anti-reflective coating for glass that's designed to make solar cells more efficient.
  • Building Efficiency and Energy Management: W.L. Gore & Associates will manufacture an advanced membrane for high-efficiency fuel cells for cars and buildings, which will ultimately lower the cost of fuel cells used to power homes, businesses and electric vehicles. The company is also producing an advanced turbine filter that will improve the performance of gas turbines and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Smart Grid: Itron has developed the CENTRON 'smart' residential meter that offers two-way communication and a remote ON/OFF switch. This should give consumers more choice in their utilities and reduce overall electricity usage.

Installing a solar pv panel

Defining a Green Career

So you've heard all about the promise of a green education and a green career, but you're probably still wondering - what, exactly, is a green job? Here are a few of the better-known careers in the industry:

Green Architecture & Construction.

Architects can specialize in designing buildings that are energy efficient and use sustainable materials and clean energy technology. If you're more hands-on, you can go into constructing green buildings by specializing in using sustainable materials. Both green architects and builders typically need LEED certification.

Green Engineering.

Engineers are problem solvers who can apply their skills to finding green solutions to the challenges presented by many different sectors. Environmental engineers focus on reducing the impact of various human projects on the environment, such as reducing polluting waste products from manufacturing or developing cleaner and more efficient processes for maintaining and supplying clean water. Other green engineers focus less on the impact of existing processes and more on developing new clean technologies. For example, a smart grid engineer uses digital technology to build a faster network for electricity.

Energy Auditing.

Looking for something that requires less training? Architecture and engineering require advanced degrees, but you can become an energy auditor just by completing some certification. Energy auditors closely examine structures to determine where air - and therefore energy - is leaking, and determine ways to fix them.

Solar Energy Installation.

Another fast-growing career in the field that requires relatively little formal training is solar photovoltaic (PV) installation. Solar PV installers put solar panels in place to turn the sun's power into electricity. The job requires mechanical skill and a lot of time spent outdoors. Many solar PV installers remain in the industry and become system designers, team leaders or sales representatives.

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