One Of Renewable Energy's Biggest Upsides Has Nothing To Do With The Environment

The stats are pretty incredible.

A new article in the Scientific American suggests that adopting more renewable energy sources wouldn't just benefit the environment and save fresh water, it'd create more jobs.

The logic isn't groundbreaking, but the evidence for an economic benefit tied to renewable energy is growing. Per Scientific American, an analysis of the U.S. Energy and Employment Report from January of 2017 showed that for every Gigawatt-Hour of solar energy, 6.65 jobs were created. That's a massive number compared to the .07 jobs created for every Gigawatt-Hour of coal energy.  


Of course, part of the discrepancy is that solar energy requires new infrastructure, which creates additional jobs that producing coal may not entail. But the United States' energy sector has been trending in a direction that is much more favorable for renewables over the last decade, and along with that trend has come a growing economic benefit. In 2016,  solar energy grew 12 times faster than the economy and by the beginning of 2017 there were more people employed in solar than every oil, gas, and coal-burning power plant combined. 

Solar panels in Death Valley National Park, California.  Geoff Hardy / Shutterstock

Last year, the solar industry lost 3.8 percent of its jobs, though experts say that was mostly the result of the solar investment tax credit, which was going to expand in 2016 and caused a rush to install solar before being extended to 2021. 

"It turns out that expanding renewables creates far more jobs than expanding fossil-fuel and nuclear power plants combined," Scientific American explained. "U.S. coal and oil jobs have been disappearing, and the delivery and burning of more natural gas adds few jobs because the operations are highly automated, requiring few people."

Those potential jobs pay well, too. The median salary of solar-related jobs was just a hair above $70,000 a year, about the same as fossil fuels. Wind energy was above $72,000 per year.  

Solar panels installed on the tiled rooftops of buildings, San Francisco bay area, Silicon Valley, California Sundry Photography / Shutterstock 

The potential job growth doesn't mean a switch would be easy. In California, a state that has had huge solar adoption and done it's best to subsidize renewable energy, another energy crisis could be looming. Because so many Californians are using solar panels or energy bought straight from generators, instead of buying utilities, the government may soon be unable to keep the lights on. That's no figure of speech, either: in 2000, an energy crisis brought on by the state allowing outside competitors into the market caused widespread blackouts and helped push the largest energy provider in the state into bankruptcy.

If anything, California shows both the potential (widespread solar adoption) and the challenges (potential economic blowback) that renewable energy adoption can cause. 

While solar has more challenges on the way in the wake of President Donald Trump's decision to impose tariffs on solar panel imports and his expressed love for coal, there's still reason for environmentalists and renewable enthusiasts to hold out hope. 89 percent of Americans endorse the idea of building more solar farms, according to a 2016 Pew Research poll, making it the most popular of all energy sources. 

That support, and the fact that renewable energy could go a long way towards preserving freshwater and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, might be enough to push future generations and lawmakers towards more widespread adoption. 

Cover image via Ethan Miller/Getty Images.


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