Chart: Clean energy jobs still lag dirty ones, but they’re growing fast

The U.S. had more than 600,000 jobs in carbon-free electricity and fuels in 2021. Thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act, it’s poised to add millions more.

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Canary Media’s chart of the week translates crucial data about the clean energy transition into a visual format.

About 40% of all energy jobs in the U.S. last year were aligned with the goal of bringing greenhouse gas emissions down to net zero, according to the U.S. Energy & Employment Report 2022 from the U.S. Department of Energy. Drilling down specifically into the electricity-generation and fuels sectors, carbon-free industries employed more than 630,000 people in 2021, according to analysis of the report’s figures by Climate Nexus, while dirty industries employed almost 980,000, and mixed” industries, including biofuels like corn ethanol, employed more than 150,000.

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But clean energy jobs are on a growth trajectory, while dirty energy jobs are stagnating or declining. 

Renewable energy added the most new jobs in the electricity-generation sector from 2020 to 2021. Solar employment increased 5.4%, according to the DOE report, while wind employment grew 2.9%. Meanwhile, jobs in coal electricity decreased by 0.8%, and jobs in fossil gas power generation grew by only 1.6%. Jobs in petroleum fuels fell by 6.4% from 2020 to 2021.

Most energy job sectors had not returned to pre-pandemic levels as of last year, according to the report. However, employers across energy sectors reported being optimistic about job growth in 2022

Employers in clean energy fields can be especially optimistic now, as jobs in their sectors are poised to surge under the Inflation Reduction Act. Over the next decade, the law is expected to spur the creation of nearly 5 million new jobs in clean energy, according to analysis from the BlueGreen Alliance, plus another 2.2 million jobs in clean transportation, efficient buildings and clean manufacturing. Since the bill was signed into law in August, several companies have already announced major new investments to increase U.S.-based manufacturing of renewable energy technologies and EV batteries.

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Shel Evergreen reports on clean energy as an intern with Canary Media. She’s written for Ars Technica, Source and MIT Technology Review. She’s also a multimedia pro who has been called a “Swiss Army knife” for her versatile skill set in writing, video production, graphic design and more.