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If Green Jobs Are So Hot, Where Are They?

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In the economic downturn, “green jobs” has become one of the hottest political catchphrases. President Barack Obama has promised 5 million new green jobs as part of his energy and stimulus plans. Here in California, the mayors of Los Angeles and San Francisco, as well as the governor have made green jobs a priority. And states across the country, from Indiana to Washington, are considering bills to develop more green jobs.

This week as the sold-out Good Jobs, Green Jobs National Conference kicks off, and Congress sits down to vote on a new, pared-down stimulus package that includes billions for jobs in energy efficiency and clean power, “green jobs” are at the forefront of everyone’s minds. But the cleantech industry hasn’t proved to be recession-proof, and layoffs and hiring freezes are leading would-be green employees to question just how soon the jobs will arrive, and what kind of cleantech companies will be hiring. Here’s what we see:

Where The Green Jobs Ain’t Right Now:

In the near term, the recession has caused many large renewable energy developers to shed staff — the New York Times had an excellent article last week on the hard times for renewable developers. A big part of the problem is that debt and tax-equity financing dropped off late last year, making it far harder to finance new clean power projects. And after a period of high demand, high prices and high margins, manufacturers have been suffering.

The wind industry has been blown over. Clipper Windpower is laying off 90 workers at its Ceder Rapids, Iowa, plant and cutting its production for 2009. Gamesa is laying off about 180 workers at its plant in Fairless Hills in eastern Pennsylvania. Even Vestas Wind Systems, the world’s No. 1 turbine maker, is reportedly seeing lowered demand for its products.

Large solar makers are feeling the same pain. Suntech Power, Day4 Energy, GT Solar, Emcore and Advanced Energy have announced layoffs, and still more have delayed or suspended new plants.

In addition, younger startups in capital-intensive businesses — many of which grew too big too fast in the good times — are in varying stages of crash and burn. OptiSolar ramped up at an incredible pace out of nowhere and recently had to chop half its staff. Electric-car maker Tesla underestimated just how difficult it would be to raise the money to mass produce vehicles and started cutting staff last year. Basically, if you see a new firm that needs to raise hundreds of millions to manufacture a lot of gear in order to start generating revenues, it’s probably not a good idea to turn in your resume.

Where The Green Jobs Still Are:

In the near term, early-stage firms and less conventional sectors of cleantech are still providing jobs. Greg Chin, a partner at law firm Latham & Watkins, says he’s seeing a net increase in jobs among his early-stage cleantech clients, with jobs mainly in science, engineering and marketing. Amy Vernetti, a managing director at headhunting firm Taylor Winfield,
says many of the jobs are coming from more obscure cleantech sectors, such as fuel additives and air filtration. She pointed us to Accsys Technologies, which is hiring and has developed a nontoxic chemical process to harden fast-growing pine so it can be used in place of hardwoods or even steel.

Startups that are building tools that can help companies save money on their energy bills can still move product in a downturn, and many are still hiring skilled employees. IT companies like Sun Microsystems (s JAVA) are increasingly focusing on cutting the energy consumption in their data centers, which requires engineers, installers and designers. Sentilla, a startup that makes energy management services for data centers and industrial manufacturing, recently raised funding and is hiring engineers. Positive Energy, a startup that builds energy management reports for utilities, raised money in late 2008 and has over a dozen jobs for engineers, executives and designers listed on its site.

But a couple things to consider about these current openings: smaller, early-stage firms hire fewer people, and that means more competition. And getting those jobs will require more skill and experience than they did previously. “A lot of people might be trying to come into the sector at a time when many people have got a three- to five-year head start on them,” says Ron Pernick, a principal of research firm Clean Edge.

Down the Road: Green Jobs From the Stimulus

A lot of hope is being pinned on the green jobs that will be created in the stimulus package, particularly jobs in building out infrastructure. The package, if passed, could allocate $4.5 billion to build out a smarter power grid, which could create jobs for electricians, installers, engineers. Smart grid software company eMeter says it has seen increased interest from utilities based on stimulus expectations. Though other utilities are slowing their smart-meter rollouts in the face of the downturn.

The stimulus package is allocating a massive $6.2 billion to weatherize public housing, which would create jobs for local construction companies that can install new insulation and more energy-efficient windows. The DOE’s Weatherization Project Manager, Robert DeSoto, told us that every local agency that will be allocating these funds will be searching for new home retrofitters to work with.

The stimulus package also allocates billions in tax breaks for renewable energy projects. This could help those large clean power developers down the road that have recently been shedding staff. The more-established, later-stage companies are the ones that are far better poised to answer Obama’s call for “shovel-ready” clean power projects than new startups. And new projects could also create a substantial amount of construction jobs, which would have a far bigger impact on green jobs overall than a small number of highly-skilled openings for executives and engineers in Silicon Valley. Another bonus: clean power construction jobs can’t be outsourced.

While it remains to be seen how many green jobs the stimulus package will deliver, as Latham & Watkin’s Chin, says: “I expect the pickup in cleantech job creation to come before the pickup in the overall economy.”

17 Responses to “If Green Jobs Are So Hot, Where Are They?”

  1. Very good info. Many industries are trying to go green, and the window cleaning services industry is no different, altho much smaller. Here in san diego we are always looking for different ways to improve the way we do things, thank you for the info.

  2. I am not aware of many redundancies in the UK renewable energy sector however I have certainly noticed the sharp reduction in recruitment in the wind energy industry compared with a year ago. You only have to look at the trade association web-sites to see the difference. Many of the jobs are created at construction stage and unless there is financing to build- the jobs won’t be in big numbers.

  3. Hello I have some GREEN JOBS. If your interested please check out our new company WOW GREEN INTERNATIONAL…..I’m pasting an email below. THANKS!!!

    My husband is starting a new company called Wow Green International and I wanted to tell you about it so that we can work together to save the planet and stop the energy crisis!

    I don’t want you to think I’m soliciting you in any way but instead I’m trying to educate you on this revolutionary product. Wow Green has created 100% non-toxic cleaning supplies that are made with enzymes. This is NOT your typical green cleaner because the scientists behind Wow Green International have found a way to bottle SEVERAL enzymes in one cleaning solutions, THIS HAS NEVER BEEN DONE BEFORE! Since enzymes are inherently cannibalistic no other enzyme cleaner has ever had more than one enzyme contained in their product. This means that the line of Wow Green Cleaners is by far stronger than any other green cleaner out there and even surpasses the leading chemical cleaners!!! This is amazing and is going to be one of the biggest breakthroughs in history! These cleaners are going to revolutionize the Green Revolution and I want you to be a part of it.

    Not only are these cleaners going to be sold at but they are also going to be distributed through independent distributors. By allowing people to become independent distributors Wow Green International is not only solving the chemical crisis but the economic crisis by creating an entire new market of jobs! There is NOTHING to sell so this isn’t like Mary Kay (and the like) where people are asking their friends and family to purchase products they don’t need. This is a situation where people are educating people they care about, about a product they need, in return those people are purchasing the product, thus making a profit for those educators. AND NO these cleaners are not more expensive than products currently on the market, in fact they are competitively priced so that everyone can have a opportunity to GO GREEN!

    We are launching February 15, 2009 in Detroit MI and would like anyone who wants to attend to be part of the dinner and launch party. Tickets are $50 but we still have some ‘free’ ones available. Please contact me at [email protected] and check out our website at

    Thank you for your time and I hope to hear from you soon,
    Melissa Khalil

    PS We are also on facebook in groups: WOW GREEN INTERNATIONAL

  4. I think the worst mistake the “green movement” has made is try to attach its goals with public policy.

    Attempting to force green living on others (and that’s exactly what these policies do) is bound to produce the exact opposite.

    The green movement would have long-term success if voluntary actions, voluntary employment, and voluntary funding were chosen.

    Instead, I believe using public policy to futher green goals will only produce short-term results…since, by nature, people resist what is forced upon them.