A new report shows energy efficiency jobs were growing locally and nationwide when the coronavirus pandemic hit, before declining during the ensuing economic crisis, but the industry is struggling to recover as quickly as the rest of the economy.
The 2020 Energy Efficiency Jobs in America report, prepared by E2 (Environmental Entrepreneurs) and the E4TheFuture, with data collected and analyzed by BW Research Partnership, shows that as of Oct. 2020, nearly 322,000 energy efficiency jobs have been lost (a 13.5% decline) since the pandemic struck, including more than 18,000 in Florida alone (down 14.7%).
Many of those lost jobs have been in construction.
Prior to this rapid decline, energy efficiency jobs had been growing at twice the rate of overall nationwide employment since 2017, reaching nearly 2.4 million workers at the end of 2019. The industry was projected to add another 71,000 jobs to the economy this year.
The industry has seen some improvements over the last few months, but according to Phil Jordan, vice president of BW Research, the addition of about 16,800 jobs means the recovery has been slower than that of the overall economy.
“We found the return of 862 jobs [in Florida], which is less than 1% growth,” he said. “Not only is it very low, in terms of the scope of the jobs lost across the state, but it's also really not that much more than jobs were growing on a monthly basis prior to the pandemic.”
In fact, Jordan said prior to the pandemic there were some cases where energy efficiency jobs were growing by as much as 7% every year.
BW Research conducted interviews with employers across the country and found that the nature of the coronavirus and the potential for future restrictions have had a significant impact on their ability to install energy efficiency measures, like installing more energy efficient windows or insulation.
According to Jordan, there are three main factors at play:
The nature of the virus itself makes people less likely to want tradespeople and other workers in their homes or businesses,
The economic uncertainty brought on by the pandemic means people may be putting off investing in energy efficiency improvements,
And a lot of companies and business owners are looking at the state of the federal government and feeling a sense of uncertainty.
“Uncertainty is generally bad for labor markets and for workers,” he said.
According to Jordan, the best way to ensure that energy efficiency jobs recover is to get the coronavirus under control. Otherwise, it’s up to policy makers to craft another stimulus package, he said.
“There are a lot of measures that make a lot of sense that could really jumpstart the economy and, not only get people back to work, but start creating opportunities for people who maybe have been out of the labor market for a long time or have been severely impacted by COVID and need to make a transition to a new industry,” Jordan said.
According to a stimulus analysis from E4TheFuture and E2, the energy efficiency industry could create more than 737,000 jobs every year for 5 years, on top of more than $66 billion in GDP each year and $330 billion in economic activity, with a theoretical federal clean energy stimulus package worth $99.2 billion.
Until energy production is 100% clean, energy efficiency will be a critical part of any strategy to address the root cause of climate change: fossil fuel emissions.
According to the recent Energy Efficiency Impact Report — produced by the Alliance to Save Energy, the American Council on an Energy Efficiency Economy and the Business Council for Sustainable Energy — without the energy efficiency investments that have been made in the U.S. since 1980, energy consumption and emissions would have been 60% higher and consumers would have paid $800 billion more per year in energy costs.