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United States Earth Power Stats

Solar Energy Now Employs More Americans Than Oil, Coal and Gas Combined (computerworld.com) 364

Solar energy now accounts for 43% of the workers in the U.S. power-generating industry, surpassing the 22% from all workers in the coal, oil, and gas industries combined, according to new figures from the Department of Energy. Slashdot reader Lucas123 writes: In 2016, the solar workforce in the U.S. increased by 25% to 374,000 employees, compared to 187,117 electrical generation jobs in the coal, gas and oil industries... [N]et power generation from coal sources declined by 53% between 2006 and September 2016; electricity generation from natural gas increased by 33%; and solar grew by over 5,000% -- from 508,000 megawatt hours (MWh) to just over 28 million MWh.
Solar industry created jobs at a rate 20 times faster than the national average, according to the Energy Department, while 102,000 more workers also joined the wind turbine industry last year, a 32% increase. In fact, 93% of the new power in America is now coming from solar, natural gas, and wind -- but it's building out new solar-generating capacity that's causing much of the workforce increases, according to the Energy Department. "The majority of U.S. electrical generation continues to come from fossil fuels," their report points out, adding that the latest projections show that will still be true in the year 2040.
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Solar Energy Now Employs More Americans Than Oil, Coal and Gas Combined

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    So if Trump wants to create jobs in America he'd better dump coal and support wind and solar.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by ClickOnThis ( 137803 )

      So if Trump wants to create jobs in America he'd better dump coal and support wind and solar.

      I doubt Trump will stand in the way of the solar industry, but he is not going to "dump coal." He carried most of the major coal-producing states [wikipedia.org] including the electoral-college-heavy swing-states of Pennsylvania and Ohio.

      He campaigned on bringing back coal-producing jobs. Clinton disappointed coal-voters by campaigning to re-train coal-workers to do other jobs. Whether Trump can deliver is still an open question. The cost of coal compared to other energy-sources, combined with automation, may prevent him f

      • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 28, 2017 @05:13PM (#53755763)

        LOL if you think the coal jobs will ever return.

        They aint coming back, ever. Due exactly to what you said, automation and alt energy sources.

      • by DanielRavenNest ( 107550 ) on Saturday January 28, 2017 @07:41PM (#53756351)

        > He campaigned on bringing back coal-producing jobs. ... The cost of coal compared to other energy-sources, combined with automation, may prevent him from doing so.

        Let's put it this way. The Southern Company (big southeast utility company), just finished their first big "clean coal" plant in Mississippi. It's clean in the sense of having the latest scrubbing tech, and the CO2 it produces will be sent down a pipeline to be injected into Gulf Coast oil wells to pump out more oil, and sequester the CO2 underground. It cost *ten times* as much per kW of capacity as utility-scale solar farms in 2016, and solar farms don't need fuel to keep running.

        That's why Georgia Power, one of the Southern Co's divisions, is building 2.5 GW of solar in the next few years ( http://www.prnewswire.com/news... [prnewswire.com] ). The Utility's divisions (Georgia Power, Alabama Power, etc.) are divided that way because each state regulates them differently. They are also half-owner of the Vogtle nuclear plant on the GA/SC border, which is adding two new reactors with 2.2 GW capacity.

        Coal is dying. Ten years ago it supplied half of the US's electricity. Now it's down to 30%. It's mainly being replaced by Natural Gas, wind, and solar. It just takes a while to replace half the nation's electric capacity. Trump got votes by telling coal-country voters he's bring back jobs, but it ain't happening. According to the Energy Department, ~15 GW of renewable power plants are scheduled to be added in 2017, and 4.7 GW of coal plants shut down. That just continues the trend of the last decade.

  • by mi ( 197448 ) <slashdot-2016q1@virtual-estates.net> on Saturday January 28, 2017 @01:47PM (#53754843) Homepage Journal

    The goal is energy, not employment. We don't build factories and plants to keep people busy...

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Dasher42 ( 514179 )

      Right, because an overhaul of a deteriorating, outdated grid shouldn't require hardly any labor. Sounds like a fair requirement to me. Clean energy loses again! Let's see if our tap water catches fire!

    • The goal is energy, not employment. We don't build factories and plants to keep people busy...

      The goal of the Politicians is campaign contributions.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      The goal is profit. Energy is the means.

      We don't build factories and plants to keep people busy...

      Right, we create bureaucracies, public and private, for that

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      The goal is energy, not employment. We don't build factories and plants to keep people busy...

      Yes.

      "The majority of U.S. electrical generation continues to come from fossil fuels."

      In other words, solar requires far more workers per MWH for some reason. This is hardly a reason to be joyful in and of itself.

      • In other words, solar requires far more workers per MWH for some reason.
        No it does not. Why should it?

        The work force growth is about workers installing new power plants.

      • by es330td ( 964170 )

        solar requires far more workers per MWH for some reason.

        Solar power has a significantly lower energy return on energy invested. Solar is a very wasteful energy source up front. (Before people get upset, this increases over time as the energy investment happens only once while cells generate energy for decades. The problem is those future MWH can't be used today.)

        • by Dasher42 ( 514179 ) on Saturday January 28, 2017 @05:08PM (#53755737)

          That's because you're not liquidating hundreds of million's years worth of accumulated fossil fuel in a century or two. Even leaving alone all the side effects, that was a one-time bonanza. In the meantime, the efficiency of solar has, with a R&D budget that's miniscule in comparison with all that's gone into fossil fuels, has improved by leaps and bounds. http://www.electroschematics.c... [electroschematics.com]

          In fact, it's the cheapest form of energy in large swathes of the world already. http://www.popularmechanics.co... [popularmechanics.com]

          The real problem is that renewable energy does not conform to a centralized model of concentrated wealth accumulation, so wealthy special interests are blowing a lot of smoke in your ears about it.

      • Because they're comparing installation+running costs to running costs.

      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

        More jobs. Cheaper. Cleaner than fossil fuels.

        Lame.

    • We don't build factories and plants to keep people busy...

      But there's now a U.S. President who's promised to do exactly that, hello?

    • by gweihir ( 88907 )

      If you want your society to survive, you will make damn sure that there are enough jobs. Of course, if you are just in it for the short-term profits, then you have a point.

      • by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) on Saturday January 28, 2017 @03:27PM (#53755355) Journal

        If you want your society to survive, you will make damn sure that there are enough jobs.

        Yes and no. If you want your society to survive, you make sure people have a basic living in order to survive. It just so happens that in our particular flavor of late-stage capitalism, jobs are required for that.

        That doesn't mean jobs are the only way to go. In fact, there's a good chance that we've reached peak jobs and the number of people who need to work to provide for all goods and services will start to shrink. That's when things start to get interesting.

        • by gweihir ( 88907 )

          I agree, sort of. I can find enough interesting things to do without a job. You probably can too. (I also have one of the jobs that will go away very late or never and most likely not in my lifetime.) I am not so sure about the general population. Enough people fall into a deep dark hole when they retire and that may be a problem with providing everybody with a work-independent basic income. People that are old sort-of expect this to happen and they usually do not have much ambition and drive left. But what

      • by SEE ( 7681 )

        If your plan for employing people is to waste their labor in inefficiency, it's trivial to invent make-work for them. So go create a Hole-Digging Administration and a Department of Hole-Filling and set both sets of workers loose with spoons.

      • If you want your society to survive, you will make damn sure that there are enough jobs. Of course, if you are just in it for the short-term profits, then you have a point.

        Ergo, if robots took all our jobs, we'd necessarily go extinct, because if all the productivity was taken care of, people who work would be meaningless, while the lives of people who "own" the robots their human employees built for them would still be very meaningful. Right.

    • The goal is energy, not employment.

      How do unemployed people pay for energy?

    • That's what China does.

    • by zifn4b ( 1040588 )

      We don't build factories and plants to keep people busy...

      Oh but we do and it's truly a shame. Maynard Keynes vision of the future where we would only work 15 hours a day and have more leisure time than we know what to do with was inhibited by protestant work ethic. We just basically keep inventing new, pointless labor to keep up our "work quotas" when it really isn't needed. It's almost like Communism in some perverted way.

    • While you are correct, you are ignoring the current political conversation, which often tries to claim that we need oil pipelines, tax breaks for oil companies, etc. etc. all in the name of "jobs".

      More jobs should equal more political influence. The government should recognize that a) we can make a profit off of clean energy, and b) doing so takes more local jobs than using fossil fuels.

      This kills the moronic crap that fossil fuel lobbies push, such as 'drill baby drill'.
       

    • Eventually, everyone will be paid by the government to "SaveThePlanet". There will be no income inequality or bad -isms or -phobias and there will be sustainabilities everywhere you look! It will be unprecedented and not at all problematic!
  • by PPH ( 736903 ) on Saturday January 28, 2017 @01:50PM (#53754863)

    .... window washers.

    • I was thinking just this: solar can use a tremendous number of low skill collector cleaners to go out and wipe the panels when they get dirty...

      • And their solar panel washing platform exploded, collapsed into a fire, and spewed noxious pollution over dying wildlife and fearful fishermen as far as the eye could see *not ever*. :)

        • The solar panel ash impoundment gave way in a rainstorm and dumped millions of tons of toxic ash into the stream and river, poisoning fish all the way to the ocean... also unlikely.

    • by Dasher42 ( 514179 ) on Saturday January 28, 2017 @02:23PM (#53755041)

      It would be a damn shame if we had to employ window washers. What about all this military we've got for fighting the next oil war? There's still some dictator ready to go rogue next to a major oilfield somewhere, right? What will Haliburton do if it can't pocket some of the trillions the government will spend to give Exxon a crack at another nation's resources? Where will Blackwater types be if not shooting up the locals? Where will we get all our refugees to blame for everything?

      Shoot, if it's going to be solar panels and windmills and tidal power, how are you going to tell Johnny with a squeegee he can't have a prosthetic leg and Veteran's Health Authority healthcare?

      Such a fine few people are making money off of all this, too!

    • Not quite but not too far off either. When you have a small energy density and a small scale instalments you lack economies of scale. A hundred people can operate a multi gigawatt nuclear reactor. How many installers / maintainers do you need to operate 100000 individual solar installations on rooftops to do the same thing?

  • by utahjazz ( 177190 ) on Saturday January 28, 2017 @02:03PM (#53754917)

    The oil industry employs far more people that solar. What this article is saying is, the number of people employed in the generation of electricity from solar is bigger than the number of people employed in the generation of electricity from oil, coal and gas. Only a tiny fraction of the oil in this country is used to generate electricity.

    • by hey! ( 33014 )

      Still pretty impressive.

      • by thegarbz ( 1787294 ) on Saturday January 28, 2017 @03:18PM (#53755315)

        No it isn't. Solar dramatically lacks economies of scale. It's like the difference between the number of people it takes to service a tuk tuk and the number of people it takes to service a Bugatti Veyron. In general the number is one and two, but in terms of people per kw of engine capacity a tuk tuk manages to employ 100 times more people per kw.

        If you used these engines to generate power the figures would look very favourable for the little 6kW 2-stroke. It's a stupid metric.

    • by guises ( 2423402 )
      How many people are you counting as being part of the oil industry? Are you including gas station attendants? Exxon Mobile is the largest oil company in the US, and they only have 75,300 employees. (number from Wikipedia)

      The thing about oil, part of the reason why it's so profitable, is that it doesn't take a lot of people. You drill a hole and wait. Exxon is also near the top in the world among companies in terms of revenue per employee.
    • by tomhath ( 637240 ) on Saturday January 28, 2017 @03:25PM (#53755341)
      Read the actual report and you'll see that only about 2/3's of the quoted figure actually works more than half-time in solar.

      Just under 374,000 individuals work, in whole or in part, for solar firms, with more than 260,000 of those employees spending the majority of their time on solar

      But it gets worse.

      Also included in the employment totals are any firms engaged in facility construction, turbine and other generation equipment manufacturing, as well as wholesale parts distribution of all electric generation technologies.

      So manufacturing and distributing solar panels also counts as "generation"?

    • Yup, because it is only the headline that counts in order to leave a false impression in peoples' minds. Talk about FakeNews...
  • all this proves (Score:5, Insightful)

    by prof_robinson ( 2632705 ) on Saturday January 28, 2017 @02:05PM (#53754929)
    ...is that solar energy is not only less efficient with its physical footprint, but it's allocation of human labor. Solar still provides only a small percentage of our energy output, yet uses more labor than all the other forms combined? That's called INEFFICIENCY. It's a bug, not a feature.
    • Re:all this proves (Score:4, Insightful)

      by jopsen ( 885607 ) <jopsen@gmail.com> on Saturday January 28, 2017 @06:13PM (#53756029) Homepage
      Not the point, it does however also point out that when Trump says he'll fight for coal jobs, that'll likely leave more Americans unemployed.

      To be fair, the employment in renewables is higher because they under construction, where as employment in oil/coal/gas is lower because it's largely just maintenance. I won't argue that coal/gas/oil isn't efficient in terms of manpower (it probably is), but that's not the point here.

      The point is that a policy of pushing renewables is likely to create jobs. Sure, most of them will only exist during the construction phase.
      As for efficiency, cost, etc. you can debate them however you wish, but these numbers are largely irrelevant in that matter.
  • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Saturday January 28, 2017 @02:12PM (#53754965)
    Of electricity generated in the U.S. [slashdot.org], solar generates just 0.6% of the total. Coal, gas, and oil generates 67% of it.

    So what this stat means is that it takes 110x more people to generate each kWh of electricity with solar than with fossil fuels. If anything, this is an excellent argument for not using solar to generate electricity.
    • Right.

      You do realize that oil and coal infrastructure won't last forever, right? Neither will our planet's ecology, for that matter.

    • On one hand, you have to add the labor of installing the power generation on one side, and calculate it like solar power is generated by continuous installation. Then you've got to ignore the costs of old technology which pollutes, leaks, spills, blows up left and right, and you've got to ignore the costs of health care from exposure to it, because it's poor people who live where that happens most, so who cares? That's how this rhetoric works. Who pays for it?

    • by El Cubano ( 631386 ) on Saturday January 28, 2017 @03:06PM (#53755243)

      So what this stat means is that it takes 110x more people to generate each kWh of electricity with solar than with fossil fuels. If anything, this is an excellent argument for not using solar to generate electricity.

      I tend to be pretty dead-set against big government (I mean really, the government screws up just about everything), so I understand where you are coming from. That said, the main thought that comes to mind for me is not so much an argument against solar, but rather that isn't necessarily ready. Let me explain.

      I think that if you were to look at the start of ARPAnet, you would look at that and wonder why it should be OK to have dozens or hundreds of very highly educated extremely talented engineers working on something that didn't really have a clear benefit moving forward. Sure, connecting computers together seemed like a great idea, but in the pre-ARPAnet days it wasn't really possible unless you bought all your gear from the same manufacturer. Even then it was a crap shoot in terms of how well it would suit your needs.

      The government made a modest investment in an idea and some emerging technology, not to score political points but for something that would deliver a military capability. It turns out that it formed the basis of the modern information economy. But, the technology had to mature and the idea had to develop. While I know it is not a perfect parallel, I think that battery technology has followed a path more like that. I don't think it will fundamentally transform humanity, but the US government (particularly the Army) has been all about batteries for a long time (smaller, longer lasting so a soldier can wear more gear, and bigger, more powerful so they can use one to power a tank). There has been no political objective, just a legitimate "we want to see this technology improve because it helps us (in this case the military) and everybody else can benefit from the advancement in the state of the art and improvements in batteries across the board."

      Sadly, solar is a political football. So, instead of focusing on the technology, people are upset about things like "loans" to companies that burn through mountains of cash only to go out of business. On top of that, there is an established energy industry that is actively trying to avoid being disrupted and one of their key strategies is to turn anything solar-related into a political issue.

      I'm not sure what the solution is, but I feel like it is part government-funded research (something like ARPAnet that was focused on technology and utility, not on politics), part technology maturation, part commercial marketplace leadership (when the technology matures and it makes financial sense companies will naturally go that direction), and part policy (remove some of the barriers that utility companies have put up; for example, if you fit out your house with solar panels and become a net generator of electricity, the local utility company should be required to purchase your power at market rates before they buy from outside their service area, or something like that).

      • by bongey ( 974911 )

        In a similar amount of time solar still hasn't taken off like the internet. ARPAnet started in 1969 by the 1990s the internet was really taking off. Solar on was a focus since 1979 , Carter solar heating panels on the white house. In 30+ years it still hasn't taken off, primarily due to cost.

        Even though I am conservative, I will be installing solar panels soon, mainly I do believe in global warming,think we should be environmentally conservative like tech, and really like to be independent as dependent on

        • In a similar amount of time solar still hasn't taken off like the internet. ARPAnet started in 1969 by the 1990s the internet was really taking off. Solar on was a focus since 1979 , Carter solar heating panels on the white house. In 30+ years it still hasn't taken off, primarily due to cost.

          I think that looking at it on a timeline is partly to blame for the current situation. The technology simply has a long way to go before it is mature enough and cheap enough to spur widespread adoption on its own based on cost-benefit, which is basically what you said:

          he biggest issue holding back solar is the cost, once it gets the price of putting a new roof plus 2-3 years of energy savings I think it will take off, right now it isn't there.

          Had someone come along in 1973: "hey this Internet thing is going fundamentally transform commerce, the government should start dumping billions of dollars into commercializing it." Had something like that been done it would have b

      • by Uberbah ( 647458 ) on Saturday January 28, 2017 @05:28PM (#53755813)

        I tend to be pretty dead-set against big government (I mean really, the government screws up just about everything)

        Only when it's been bought off by capitalist interests. Government provides better services for less money, and is the only thing standing between you and abusive monopolies and products that kill you.

    • by swb ( 14022 )

      I didn't read TFA, but my off the cuff interpretation is that solar is still very much in the build-out phase of its life cycle. I would bet that a huge amount of the labor involved in the "solar" side of the equation is electrical construction -- actually setting up and wiring the panels.

      Those are great jobs, but they aren't forever. At some point, we will have built all the major solar installations we will build, but it could be a long time -- 20-30 years, and then there will probably be a drop off to

    • So what this stat means is that it takes 110x more people to generate each kWh of electricity with solar than with fossil fuels. If anything, this is an excellent argument for not using solar to generate electricity.

      Not at all. You're only ASSUMING that the additional jobs equates to significantly more expense. But you don't have to make that logical leap... we have actual price figures allowing direct comparison, which show that not to be the case.

      So we have cheap electricity that generates many more jobs

  • construction workers (Score:5, Informative)

    by jarkus4 ( 1627895 ) on Saturday January 28, 2017 @02:17PM (#53754993)

    essential fragment from the report (page 28):

    Proportionally, solar employment accounts for the largest share of workers in the Electric Power Generation sector. This is largely due to the construction related to the significant buildout of new solar generation capacity.

    On pages 37+ there are some graphs with employment category distribution and construction and installation accounts for over 37% of solar employment (compared to less then 5% in coal and not even on graph for oil and gas.

  • Given that solar accounts for 0.5% of US energy consumed, if the cited employment figures are true then each solar employee is much much less productive than his/her fossil counterpart. We could get a lot more employment in construction if we required all excavation to be done with hand tools, but would that be desirable? Likewise, saying "It employs a lot of people and is therefore good" regarding solar uses the wrong metric for its desirability.
  • Once a system is up and running, shouldn't it be nearly maintenance-free other than keeping the panels clean? If it's mainly construction, then these aren't going to be permanent jobs.

  • I bet they are counting the woman at Home Depot who asks me if I want solar panels literally EVERY TIME I walk by her.

  • by slazzy ( 864185 ) on Saturday January 28, 2017 @11:18PM (#53757031) Homepage Journal
    How many doctors lost their jobs thanks to less air pollution related illness ?

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