October marks Energy Awareness Month, a national effort to highlight the importance of energy to our infrastructure and economy. At CEE, we’re taking stock of progress made, and goals not yet reached, in clean energy employment. Recently, Clean Energy Economy MN (CEEM) published a crucial benchmarking report on the state of clean energy jobs in the Midwest. Their findings offer insight into how Minnesota’s clean energy economy has been coping with pandemic setbacks to stay on course for a sustainable future.
Clean energy jobs encompass several industries, from manufacturing energy efficient windows to generating power from alternative fuel sources to developing electric vehicle models. There are currently 55,300 clean energy jobs in Minnesota. The energy efficiency market, responsible for work like retrofitting buildings or updating lighting and HVAC systems, comprises the bulk of clean energy jobs at 74.4%. CEE falls under this sector. The second largest field for clean energy jobs is renewable energy, such as solar, which has historically been one of the fastest growing job creators in the area. Smaller clean energy job fields are nonetheless developing rapidly. For example, advanced grid technologies that store energy on the grid and manage the distribution of that energy are expanding with the need to modernize the grid and build more efficient and resilient systems.
As in most industries, clean energy jobs took a hit during the COVID-19 pandemic. At one point in 2020, more than 11,500 clean energy workers in Minnesota had filed for unemployment, reflecting a 10.5% loss in jobs due to the pandemic. Nevertheless, the clean energy job market has shown remarkable resilience and an ability to rebound unlike other job sources in the state. During the second half of 2020, the sector saw 10% job growth, recovering twice as fast as overall state job growth.
All signs point to a strong comeback for Minnesota’s clean energy jobs in 2022. Employers in related industries project an 8% growth rate over the next year. The advanced transportation sector, which includes electric vehicle manufacturing and infrastructure, shows significant potential as a job creator with the highest job growth rate in 2020. Despite a general reduction in renewable energy jobs, the wind industry held an impressive 8% growth rate in 2020. Clean energy work’s potential is tied to small business success; 71% of MN’s clean energy businesses employ fewer than 20 people.
Policy leadership will be key. Passing a 100% clean electricity standard in Minnesota would create thousands of new jobs. The bipartisan Energy Conservation and Optimization Act that passed in May 2021 has already kickstarted a statewide commitment to renewable energy and reducing carbon gas emissions that will help maintain and grow clean energy work throughout Minnesota.
Increasing the clean energy workforce in our home state also requires opening the labor pool to individuals and communities who have been historically underutilized in the field. In partnership with Xcel Energy, CEE is developing a workforce development program to attract and train people of color and women to pursue clean energy careers. The program will launch this winter as part of our ongoing commitment to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion in the clean energy sector.
As both a clean energy employer and champion for policy initiatives that drive the industry, CEE is ready and excited for what the future holds.