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Is a Green Job In Your Future -- In China?

Region matters when you look for a green job. Think outside the box for green careers, green jobs and green job training.

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Green job trends are changing -- both by industry sectors and by location.

Based on the Toffler's "Future Shock update" observation that jobs are migrating globally ... the latest clean tech job activity research by Clean Edge points out that green jobs are growing in China.

Have you thought of moving? Read the Toffler's forecasts.

Late 2010 research results indicate that China is investing twice as much as the US in green job creation. But it's a global job world in today's global economic web. Overall 2010 unemployment rates in the United States and Europe hover around 10 percent, with rates much higher if you count those who have stopped looking for jobs altogether.

Against this backdrop, clean energy continues to fuel the plans of many cities, states, nations, investors, and companies as they look for the next wave of innovation and growth. And on many counts, the clean-energy sector is delivering new job and economic opportunities, as it moves from a once-marginalized niche to an increasingly cost-competitive, mainstream offering. There are many challenges facing the sector, but clean energy and more broadly, clean tech, offer some of the largest growth opportunities on the global economic horizon. As we highlight in this report, green jobs can pay well and span the spectrum from “green-collar” trade jobs to Ph.D.-level engineers.

Clean-tech jobs represent some of the most dynamic sectors in the technology landscape, including electric vehicles (cars, trucks, and rail), energy storage, green-building materials, advanced lighting, solar power, wind energy, and the smart grid.

Top Clean-Tech Job Sectors


Renewable Energy (e.g., Solar, Wind)
Energy Storage
Energy Conservation and Efficiency
Smart Grid Devices and Networks
Electric Transmission and Grid Infrastructure
Biomass and Sustainable Biofuels


Hybrid-Electric Vehicles
All-Electric Vehicles
Electric Rail
Hydrogen Fuel Cells for Transport
Advanced Transportation Infrastructure
Advanced Batteries for Vehicles


Energy-Efficient Desalination
UV and Reverse-Osmosis Filtration
Drip & Smart Irrigation Systems
Automated Metering and Controls
Water Recovery and Capture


Biomimicry Bio-Based Materials
Reuse and Recycling
Green Building Materials
Cradle-to-Cradle Systems
Green Chemistry
A Political Economy Research Institute report released in late 2008, Green Recovery, estimated that $100 billion spent on clean energy over a 10-year period could create two million new jobs, compared to just 500,000 jobs if the money were invested in oil and gas-related industries.

Industrial leaders in the U.S., China, South Korea, Germany, Japan, and other nations, responding to this opportunity, are now vying for clean-tech leadership and the jobs that come with it. According to Clean Edge research, the solar PV industry alone now represents approximately 300,000 direct and indirect jobs globally, while the wind-power sector includes more than 500,000 direct and indirect jobs worldwide.

The Renewables 2010 Global Status Report, the highly-regarded annual publication from global research group REN21, shows that total jobs in renewable energy industries exceeded three million globally in 2009.

In August 2010 Portugal was reported (by New York Times) to be on track to get 45% of its grid electricity from renewables this year. Clean-energy research firm IHS Emerging Energy Research, projects that other countries will soon join this trend, with Ireland, Denmark, and Britain setting goals to get 40% or more of their electricity from renewable sources by 2025.

China Dominates List of Pure-Play Clean-Tech Employers

No other country comes close to matching the active role being taken by China to supercharge its clean-tech initiatives.

Recent indicators point to China's growing dominance, they passed Japan this year to become the world’s second-largest economy. China now outspends both the U.S. and Europe on clean energy. Clean-energy investments in China reached $34.6 billion last year, more than any other country and almost double the U.S. investment of $18.6 billion, according to a Pew Environment Group report, Who’s Winning the Clean Energy Race. 2010’s list of top clean-tech pure-play employers continues to reflect the international nature of the clean-tech industry, but also points to the emerging dominance of China.

China dominates the list, with six of the top companies followed by the U.S. with two companies, and one each in Spain and Denmark.

Corporate giants continue to embolden their clean-tech activities via investments, new divisions, and M&A activity. Active multi-national corporations in the clean tech space include ABB, BP, BYD, Ford, GE, MEMC and Samsung.

Without question, clean-tech manufacturing is proving to be a robust jobs creator when viewed on a global basis. Hard-charging Asian economies, primarily China but also others including South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Singapore, are hiring thousands of factory workers to crank out solar panels, lithium-ion batteries, and a wide range of wind-turbine components. At the same time, traditional European clean-tech leaders like Germany and Denmark continue to expand their clean-energy manufacturing capacity.

President Obama on down have anointed clean tech as a major hope to revive America’s hard-hit manufacturing infrastructure, and some $50 billion of the $800 billion federal stimulus package, in the form of grants, tax credits, or loan guarantees, is devoted to the development of clean-tech factory jobs.

Fremont, California is an example of new public-private partnering that is rebuilding a manufacturing base in the US. The NUMMI plant, a ballyhooed joint venture between Toyota and General Motors, shut down in April after 26 years, laying off 4,700 workers. The following month, Tesla and Toyota announced plans to build Tesla’s all-electric Model S sedan at the plant, with Tesla aiming to produce the first models in 2012.

Fewer Jobs, Higher Skill Levels, More Automation

But here as in other manufacturing plants, the clean-tech revival does not always replace the same number of jobs previously lost. The Tesla-Toyota plant plans to employ about 1,000 people or less than a quarter of the original workforce, reflecting both increased automation, fewer moving parts in electric vehicles, and lower production targets compared to NUMMI’s heyday of Chevy Prizms, Pontiac Vibes, and Toyota Corollas and Tacomas.

The new reality is that advocates that U.S. clean-tech jobs are NOT "outsource-proof" especially in manufacturing. Apollo Alliance estimates that some 70% of the content of U.S. clean-energy installations is manufactured overseas. Trade statistics tell the tale. The U.S. trade deficit in renewable-energy products soared 1,400% to almost $5.7 billion between 2004 and 2009, according to a January 2010 report from the office of U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon).

The localization may hold true for construction, installation, and maintenance of clean-energy generation capacity, as well as on-site work like building-efficiency retrofits.

But installation and maintenance of solar panels and wind turbines account for less than 30% of the total labor involved, according to the Renewable Energy Policy Project think tank in Washington, D.C.

How China, the U.S., and other nations can compete effectively for clean-tech job creation

But looking forward, the global landscape for clean-tech manufacturing jobs won't always be a clear-cut 'us vs. them' search for the cheapest labor costs.

Cost-cutting is king in the world of clean-tech manufacturing. For developed countries, this often means moving jobs to emerging markets with lower labor costs.

Five Key Steps to Building Clean Tech Jobs

  1. Deploy aggressive national renewable portfolio standards with "teeth"
  2. Support green infrastructure development - grids
  3. Implemet and enforce efficiency, fuel and emissions rules and standards
  4. Establish green bank, bonds and funds
  5. Implement carbon taxes

Political wonks are twisting these policies to their personal ends, and will continue to do so during election seasons. But the reality is that we are in the middle of an energy transformation and new rules and new systems are needed to meet tomorrow's needs, and deal with yesterday's waste. Clean tech can be a cleaner, more efficient way to reshape society's productivity if integrity and common sense are put at the heart of the changes.

Cross-border partnerships, which may be the wave of the future, are starting to form.

Foreign-owned project deal help establish a U.S.-based manufacturing supply chain for offshore competitors, a concept that could boost manufacturing jobs across a wide range of clean-tech sectors in the future. For example, a 2009 agreement between the United Steelworkers and Spain-based Mondragon Internacional, the world’s largest workers’ cooperative, to help establish manufacturing cooperatives in the U.S. and Canada. The agreement grew out of United Steelworkers members working for Spanish manufacturer Gamesa, making wind turbine components at formerly shuttered steel plants in Pennsylvania.

Mexico is a growing contender for US partnerships. Mexico’s wage costs will not be as low as in the cheapest Asian countries, but as demand spikes in North America for all things clean tech, the nation’s fortuitous proximity could solidify its permanent foothold in the industry’s labor landscape.

Technology develops in "hives of concentration" that include research and education, funding, and demand by early adopters. These community factors make a difference, and not surprisingly, California is leading the U.S. charge in many high technology and clean tech sectors.

California's Clean Tech Leadership

The San Francisco Bay Area/Silicon Valley repeats as the top area for cleantech jobs, with Los Angeles second. Even in its challenging economic times, California continues to see fairly robust job activity in clean-tech startups and established players, with the state’s high-tech giants like Cisco, Intel, and Google aggressively expanding their smart-grid initiatives. San Diego (seventh) and Sacramento (15th) give California four cities in the Top 15.

Additional US cities that are making strides in clean tech jobs development include Boston, New York City, Denver and Washington/Baltimore, Houston.

Top 5 Sectors for Clean-Tech Job Activity (U.S. 2009)

Rank Sectors
1 Solar Power
2 Biofuels & Biomaterials
3 Smart Grid & Energy Efficiency
4 Wind Power
5 Advanced Transportation/Vehicles
(Rankings based on Clean Edge research of job placements, job postings, and public and private investments)

Energy Efficiency - Clean Energy's Alter Ego

"In the U.S., with annual electricity consumption at approximately 14,000 kWh per capita – roughly double the consumption rate in the European Union and five times the world average – energy efficiency measures should be the first thing on the mind of each and every clean-energy advocate," states the CleanEdge report

Energy efficiency avoids the need for new generating capacity, and efficiency is also the most cost-effective way to create jobs on a dollar investment basis.

Clean tech companies can adopt energy efficiency as part of their unique value proposition. For example, U.S.-based solar project developer SolarCity in Foster City, California, began to embrace efficiency improvements as a cheap and productive way to reduce and clean up energy consumption. The company acquired Building Solutions, a developer of home energy audit software. SolarCity will use Building Solutions’ technology to offer energy audits to its residential solar customers, allowing for amplified energy-saving benefits. The marriage of these two services is likely to prove fruitful and could usher in an era in which solar project designer and home energy auditor exist in the same job description.

And teaming up efficiency and cogeneration could also make going solar much more affordable for typical solar PV consumers and commercial customers.

Resources for clean-tech job seekers and employers

Many organizations are researching, analyzing and reporting on clean tech career and business development. Here are some of the organizations to visit with:
  • The Pew Charitable Trusts
  • WWF - World Wildlife Fund
  • Center for American Progress
  • Blue Green Alliance
  • Global Insight
  • Governors' Wind Energy Coalition

But not all helpful information is in policy and research organizations. Many authors and publishers are also providing resources that can apply to specific job, career and business demands. Some of the leading authors and publishers in the clean tech sector include:

  • Carol L. McClelland, Green Career Central
  • Gregory McNamee, PixyJack Press
  • Ron Pernick and Clint Wilder, Collins Business
  • Frank Marquardt,
  • Barbard Parks, Jodi Helmer
  • Jim Cassio, New Society Publisher
  • Corona Brezina, Rosen Publishing Group

Watch for Economic Development Activity to Lead the Way for Job Creation

Watch the news for retooling of shuttered manufacturing plants in a community. Watch for U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) loan guarantee and state and county incentives.

Track successfully courted offshore manufacturers.Economic development divisions of cities and states are making inroads to attract jobs to their regions.

For example: Nine advanced electric-vehicle battery plants have opened in the U.S. thanks partially to stimulus dollars, with $2.4 billion allocated for that sector alone.

Download the full report from Cleanedge

Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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