Where The Green Jobs Will Be in 2014

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In the movie, “The Graduate,” Dustin Hoffman returned home from college and got one word of career advice: “Plastics.”

That was 1967 – and 35 years later, words are “solar, buildings, and heavy trucks.” Maybe the hottest of the three is solar. Each sector and others add up to jobs.

Luckily, a decade ago, maybe I was just young and crazy – or ahead of my time by accident. But, my “plastics” was clearly “solar.” The result was that I used it to be part of building a multi-billion dollar industry. Since then, I have been privileged to build wealth in many other sectors within the resource efficiency space including batteries, solar hot water, and hydroponic greenhouses.

The wealth I am talking about is not a few people making millions, but millions of people making a real living. So let’s look at why there is a huge demand in these areas – and what jobs need to be filled in this new world I call “Climate Wealth.”

The demand is driven by the fact that across the broader resource efficiency industry, renewable energy costs have declined while traditional-energy costs have risen. Since 1999, fuel budgets are up 300 percent and electricity bills up 25 percent. These market dynamics make it clear that there is a real opportunity for stably priced, clean energy solutions that save people money.

First, the solar industry, now at $13 billion, has added more than 15,000 people in 2013 and looks to increase hiring in 2014. Compared to a decade ago, solar has stabilized as an industry. And, the past year, solar stocks have risen 140 percent. Notable names like Solar City and SunEdison have more than doubled in the past year. Their stock rise is driven by a realization by most investors that solar can now be cost effective without government subsidies.

There are emerging hot growth markets in Minnesota, Georgia, and Iowa plus continuing growth in existing hot geographic markets like Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Oregon and Washington DC. With this level of broad support, the solar industry will be adding jobs at a feverish clip next year.

Many of the open positions are in sales, construction and project management. Plus, there are many open positions in marketing, public relations, accounting, data analysis, and finance. A good starting point to find open positions is the Solar Energy Industries Association website – http://seia.org.

Second, since 1975, the energy efficiency retrofit industry has always had promise but failed to really hit the mark. But 2014 is looking very different. The big growth area is in continuous commissioning of buildings – otherwise known as Big Data. Companies like Intel, IBM, AT&T, Siemens, Johnson Controls, Schneider Electric, SCIEnergy, Building IQ, Entouch, Informa and others have finished their R&D and raised the growth capital they need to accelerate deployment in 2014.

These companies work with existing building management systems that have been largely collecting dust for over 20 years. The data from these systems can be fed real-time into the “cloud” allowing Big Data companies to pinpoint where the building is losing energy and often fix the problems remotely. In some cases, specific instructions can be sent to the building owners on low cost and no costs repairs and upgrade that maintenance crews can fix during routine rounds.

Navigant Consulting predicts that annual revenue in the building management systems space worldwide will grow from $56.9 billion in 2013 to $100.8 billion by 2021. 2014 will be about getting their products into the marketplace at scale. To do so, they need sales people and data specialists – probably more than 1,000 of them per month.

Third, the heavy truck industry will also see a big focus in 2014. Peterbilt and others sold more natural gas trucks in 2013 than ever before. According to the American Trucking Research Institute, diesel costs over $0.59/mile, compared to less than $0.25/mile for natural gas.

As more natural gas trucks get on the road, folks driving diesel trucks are being priced out of the market. That means diesel truck owners have to buy a new truck or retrofit their existing trucks to burn up to 50 percent natural gas. They can also add some aerodynamics and anti-idling solutions to stay competitive.

Companies have been selling these technologies for 15+ years – since I was working as a contractor to the Department of Energy. What’s different today is not $4/gallon diesel – it is the competitive threat of all of the new natural gas vehicles hitting the market place.

There will construction jobs for new refueling stations, mechanics needed to repair these natural gas systems, manufacturing jobs in the USA to keep the inventory stocked, sales jobs, and training for thousands of shops that want to learn how to perform these retrofits. T. Boone Pickens was right, but his timing was off because of the lack of help from Washington DC. So the USA spent $150B more for diesel since 2008 than necessary, but as Winston Churchill said, Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing after they exhaust all other options.

Other industries are going to turn the corner in 2014 with the bulk of their job growth probably coming in 2015. These industries include local agriculture solutions, solar hot water, battery storage for buildings, transoceanic ship retrofits, combined heat and power, car sharing, and many other resource efficiency industries. With over 100,000 companies in the United States alone that are gearing up for these opportunities – resource-efficiency solutions look to represent the largest wealth creation opportunity of a generation.

The resource-efficiency sector will have at least a 40-year growth span for jobs and careers.“Plastics” has officially been replaced.

[Photo Credit: jariceiii on Flickr via Creative Commons 2.0]

This post appeared on the LinkedIn Influencer page of Jigar Shah on January 7th, 2014 and can be viewed there by clicking here.
Jigar Shah is founder of SunEdison, the largest solar services company, and was the first CEO of the Carbon War Room (CWR), where he is a board member today. CWR is a nonprofit that harnesses the power of entrepreneurs to implement market-driven solutions to climate change and create a post-carbon economy. As chief executive of Jigar Shah Consulting, he works with global organizations on business solutions to solve climate change. He is the author of Creating Climate Wealth (ICOSA 2013).