Green Jobs by the Numbers

Top Clean Tech Sectors Saw Explosive Growth in 2003-2010 Despite the Great Recession

Kate Gordon, Matt Kasper, and Susan Lyon highlight the impressive growth of key clean energy sectors and the clean economy over the last seven years.

Solar panels are shown at the Mesquite Solar  1 facility under construction on September 30, 2011, in Arlington,  Arizona. There was major jobs growth in clean energy between 2003 and 2010. (AP/Ross D. Franklin)
Solar panels are shown at the Mesquite Solar 1 facility under construction on September 30, 2011, in Arlington, Arizona. There was major jobs growth in clean energy between 2003 and 2010. (AP/Ross D. Franklin)

There’s one thing we know for certain about green jobs: They are real, well-paid, and growing. The jobs that make up the clean energy economy are on the rise when jobs in many other sectors are slipping away or moving overseas. With 14 million unemployed Americans, they are a sign of hope in an otherwise stagnant economy.

In terms of sheer growth, the clean tech sector glows especially brightly. The July 2011 report “Sizing the Clean Economy” from the Brookings Institution and Battelle’s Technology Partnership Practice makes clear that emerging clean tech sectors saw explosive growth in recent years.

In particular, the clean economy sector focused on clean energy—especially wind, solar, fuel cell, smart grid, biofuel, and battery companies—grew far more quickly than the economy as a whole. The Brookings report slices and dices the data in a number of ways. But most striking is the major jobs growth in clean energy between 2003 and 2010: Solar thermal and wind grew by 18.4 percent and 14.9 percent, respectively.

This chart breaks down the top 10 of these specific clean technology industries in terms of their annual average percent change in jobs from 2003 to 2010:

top 15 sectors of green job growth

Segments with initially very few jobs saw particularly dramatic change over time, though the total jobs in the segment may still be much smaller than in others with a larger baseline.

This chart breaks them down in terms of absolute change in jobs:

highest rates of green job growth

Some other facts and figures you should know about green jobs and the clean energy economy:

  • There are currently 2.7 million jobs in the “clean economy,” broadly defined to include both mature and emerging industries across the clean tech, transit, conservation, waste, agriculture, and other clean sectors.
  • The clean economy as a whole—not just the clean tech sectors discussed above—grew by 8.3 percent from 2008 to 2009, in the depths of the recession. This was almost double what the overall economy grew during those years. This is in large part thanks to the Recovery Act.
  • Median wages are 13 percent higher in green energy careers than the economy average.
  • Three separate programs for energy efficiency retrofits employed almost 25,000 Americans in three months since earlier this year. The Weatherization Assistance Program, Energy Efficiency Block Grant Program, and State Energy Programs collectively upgraded over half a million buildings since they began to ramp up earlier this year. These programs mainly hired construction workers, a key point during a time of particularly heavy unemployment in the construction sector.

In sum, the clean economy has continued to grow even while industries across America have had to lay off workers or close up shop. Instead of dancing on the grave of those few clean energy companies that do not make it, we need to support the smart growth policies and investments that can create more green jobs while strengthening our greater economy.

Kate Gordon is Vice President for Energy Policy, Susan Lyon is Special Assistant for Energy Policy, and Matthew Kasper is an intern with the Energy team at American Progress.

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Kate Gordon

Senior Fellow

Matt Kasper

Research Assistant