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What Is an Energy Efficiency Job?


October 16, 2012 - 10:56am
By Casey Bell, Senior Economist and Finance Policy Lead

The impact of investments in energy efficiency extends well beyond reducing energy costs or addressing the environmental impacts of energy extraction and use. These investments provide jobs for American workers and help them to support their families and communities.

ACEEE has just released a series of six profiles of real world experiences in energy efficiency job creation. These profiles describe programs, policies, investments, partnerships, and business models that have catalyzed regional increases in employment. While previous ACEEE work has provided an analytic framework for how jobs are created through efficiency, this paper focuses on the jobs themselves.

Energy efficiency catalyzes employment opportunities that draw upon the broad range of Americans’ skills. Moreover, as companies’ investments in energy efficiency improve their bottom lines, they experience increased competitiveness, which is a potential contributing factor in bringing jobs back to American soil. Each profile serves as an independent portrait of the various driving forces behind energy efficiency job creation, illustrates the diversity of energy efficiency jobs, and demonstrates the extent to which they draw upon Americans’ existing skills and competencies.  

Highlights in the paper distilled from conversations with program representatives and literature review include:

  • OPower: Opower is a privately held software company that partners with utilities to develop feedback reports on home energy performance. Since the launch of the company, OPower has grown to employ more than 240 software engineers, programmers, and sales and marketing experts. 
  • New York City Greener, Greater Buildings Plan: In 2009,The New York City Greener, Greater Buildings Plan was enacted.  Four local laws require, among other actions, annual benchmarking of building energy performance and retro-commissioning. A number of firms have employed energy analysts to meet the need for assistance with compliance, and the subsequent demand for assistance in interpreting benchmarking metrics and applying the information to investment decisions. The city estimates that the laws will generate $700 million in savings and create roughly 17,800 construction jobs over 10 years. 
  • Nissan North America: In 2006, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and amidst rising natural gas prices, Nissan made the decision to prioritize investments in energy efficiency and establish a rigorous energy-management program to control manufacturing costs and become more competitive. By improving the cost-effectiveness of the production process, Nissan is now more competitive, creating and retaining jobs on U.S. soil. 
  • Ohio Low-Income WeatherizationDuring the ARRA period, the Corporation for Ohio Appalachian Development (COAD) weatherized 9,000 homes and expanded its workforce by 400 people and catalyzed a total of 188 indirect and induced jobs in Ohio.  They are now working on approaches to sustain program funding without ARRA funding.   COAD estimates that at full funding, given current demand, the program could support approximately 1,600 jobs over the next 20 years.
  • Johnson Controls, Wisconsin Energy Initiative: In 1992, Johnson Controls worked with the State of Wisconsin to implement energy conservation lighting projects, and expanded their efforts in 1998 to include additional efficiency measures. The total effort created 1,500 annual jobs for more than 50 private-sector companies employing architects, engineers, electricians, and maintenance workers. 
  • General Electric, Appliance Park: Appliance Park in Louisville, Kentucky is the headquarters for General Electric Appliances, which manufactures over 750 ENERGY STAR-qualified lighting and appliance products. A 2010 Tripp Umbach study commissioned by GE shows that the Appliance Park directly and indirectly generates $1.6 billion in the state from local purchasing and other mechanisms, and supports over 12,000 jobs in the state. For every job at Appliance Park, which employs more than 5,000 full-time employees, an additional 1.5 jobs are indirectly supported through vendor purchases or are induced through the re-spending of a GE employee’s wages.

These profiles primarily illustrate jobs arising from the implementation of efficiency measures, from the supply chain supporting this direct implementation, and from additional dollars circulating in the broader economy that are spent by workers in these categories. What we have not emphasized here are the multitude of jobs that are supported when individuals and businesses redirect the money they save by paying lower utility bills. In other words, energy efficiency does more than drive job creation through installation and investment. The subsequent cost savings from energy efficiency can also be used, in part, to support fuller levels of employment in the broader economy.

As demonstrated through our profiles, jobs supported by energy efficiency are diverse and require a variety of skill sets, many of which are abundant in the American workforce today. In sum, energy efficiency should be viewed as a powerful strategy for sustaining enduring employment that utilizes a huge range of Americans’ skills and expertise.