Opportunities in Energy: Putting Renewable Energy into Perspective

The drop in oil and gas prices over the past few years has been great for most consumers, but it has slowed the growth of much of the energy industry. Oil boom towns have suffered, and the stock market has felt the effects. But even with that setback, veterans can still look to the energy industry for productive and challenging careers.

Over the past decade, the capacity of renewable energy has set records. In 2015, renewable energy accounted for most gigawatts of newly generated energy for the first time ever. That year it was also reported that funding committed to renewable energy rose five percent to $285.9 billion. This was achieved despite a sharp fall in oil, coal, and gas prices that traditionally have protected the competitive position of fossil fuel generation.

Many people are turning to the renewable energy industry for employment. Close to 8.1 million people worldwide worked in this sector in 2016. American workers comprised 6.4 million of that number, adding 300,000 jobs to the economy. Speculation of growth continues. The industry is predicted to top out at 24 million jobs by 2030.

Jobs in renewable energy can be found in the public, private, and non-profit sectors, and range from entry-level to professional positions in a variety of fields. Working in renewable energy has a myriad of possibilities including laboratory work, field work, sustainable transportation, manufacturing, and construction. With the advancement technology and limited natural resources, these jobs are on the rise.

The solar industry, specifically, saw increased employment in 2016 by over 51,000 employees, a 25 percent increase from the previous year. The 2016 Solar Jobs Census reports 260,077 solar workers in 2015, a 200 percent increase since the first National Solar Jobs Census was released in 2010.

Some additional facts from the 2016 Solar Job Census:
* In 2015, the solar workforce grew at a rate 12 times faster than the overall economy
* Solar accounts for 1 in 50 new U.S. jobs in 2016
* Nine percent of solar workers nationwide are veterans, compared to 7 percent in the overall U.S. workforce.

In, 2011, the Obama administration launched its Joining Forces program, an initiative to help post-9/11 veterans find gainful employment. Since then, the unemployment rate among veterans has dropped from 12.1 percent to 4.5 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Department of Labor.

Operation Warfighter (OWF) is a perfect example of the government’s efforts. This program, operated by the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), is an internship program that matches qualified veterans with non-funded federal internships to prepare them for their civilian career.

The EERE also partners with the SunShot Initiative’s Solar Instructor Training Network, which has a goal to train 50,000 new solar installers in total by 2020. The network is a group of private and public partnerships attempting to make solar energy affordable for all Americans. In addition to cleaner energy options, the network was established to increase America’s economic strength on the world’s stage.

Despite the surge of interest in renewable energy, for more than a century, fossil fuel energy has dominated research and consumption patterns. In fact, the Office of Fossil Energy has the longest history of any organization in the U.S. Department of Energy. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics employment in this industry could increase eight percent by 2024 which means there could be up to 300,000 new jobs over the next seven years. While renewable energy may playing a larger role, working in the fossil fuel industry remains a viable choice.

With new ways to find and create energy, there are exciting innovative ideas all the time. Energy use rises each year, even with efforts at conservation. The constant and growing need makes energy a career field with a lot of juice – and a lot of job security.