Almost 13 million people are out of work due to COVID-19, and the wealth gap continues to increase. Those are just two of the grim realities that President-elect Joe Biden will need to tackle. And while it’s highly doubtful that he will bring the traditional manufacturing sector roaring back to life, there are some other bright spots as it relates to jobs. The clean energy sector is growing, and the employment opportunities will continue to grow, with many of the jobs paying above average wages. HBCU Coalition, along with the JPB Foundation and The Rocky Mountain Institute, are working together to bring awareness of these opportunities to students and faculty at HBCUs as well as the residents of communities surrounding the campuses.
What is driving the growth?
The clean energy workforce has been growing rapidly in recent years due to the demand for clean energy, lower technology costs, and investments in the sector. And every state (including states that rely on fossil fuels) is experiencing growth in four main areas: renewable energy, energy storage and advanced grid, energy efficiency, and advanced vehicles and transportation. The work involved includes a wide range of well-paying jobs, such as installing solar panels and wind turbines, auditing energy efficiency, and manufacturing of electric vehicles.
In addition to increased demand, the cost of new renewable energy is cheaper than running existing coal plants, and prices get more affordable every year. By 2025, almost every existing coal plant in the United States will cost more to operate than building replacement wind and solar within 35 miles of each plant.
Higher Paying Jobs
In addition, the clean energy sector offers higher-paying job opportunities. A recent study called Clean Jobs, Better Jobs, wages and benefits across the clean energy sector was analyzed, and research found that the median hourly wage was $23.89 in 2019 compared with the national median wage of $19.14. Also, many of these jobs were unionized, which meant that they often had strong health care and retirement benefits as well. For example, solar energy workers earn $24.48 an hour, while wind and grid modernization jobs pay, on average more than $25 an hour. Energy efficiency – the largest employer in the nation's energy sector – supports a median hourly wage of $24.44, about 28% above the national median. Many clean energy jobs also paid better than fossil fuel jobs. Employment in coal, natural gas, and petroleum fuels paid $24.37 an hour, while solar and wind jobs combined for a $24.85 median hourly wage. Clean energy industries also employed about three times more workers than fossil fuels did in 2019. Unlike fossil fuel jobs, clean energy jobs are available in every state, regardless of geology or geography.
HBCU Coalition’s Clean Energy Initiative
Recognizing the opportunity, the HBCU Coalition started its clean energy initiative funded through the generous support of the JPB Foundation in NYC. It was developed to replicate a community workforce investment program's successful model focusing on the Clean Energy Industry and solar energy specifically. The first implementation was in the City of Baltimore, Maryland, and anchored at Morgan State University (a historically black research university). MSU installed solar panels on 33 homes owned by low-income families and provided workforce training to residents. MSU also connected community homeowners and business owners to campus leaders to promote the many benefits of using clean energy. The program will soon be rolled out around other campuses such as Southern University in Shreveport, LA.
A career in Clean Energy
In addition, the HBCU Clean Energy Initiative recently partnered with the Rocky Mountain Institute to offer a Careers in Energy Virtual Information Session to discuss partnerships, internships, and career opportunities at the Rocky Mountain Institute.
The session is designed for HBCU career services staff, HBCU students, and HBCU alumni and will be held on November 18, 2020. You can register here, and the link to the session will be sent to all registered participants.
A Bright Outlook
So, although sectors that once provided middle-class job opportunities such as manufacturing have shrunk substantially, the clean energy industry has the potential to replace many of those jobs without the risk of them being eventually outsourced. And with increased government investment, the sector could grow even more quickly. Not only will American workers benefit, but the planet will as well. If you are interested in learning more about HBCU’s Clean Energy Initiative, please contact us.