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Clean energy creates jobs & drives innovation

November 12th, 2022
By Michael Coleman

This is an excerpt from the Fall/Winter 2022-2023 issue of the Upstate Advocate, Upstate Forever's twice-yearly publication. To read a digital copy of the complete publication, please click here.

As the United States and other countries mobilize to reduce carbon emissions and SC embraces market-driven efforts to electrify the transportation sector, there is often discussion about how the clean energy sector will create good paying jobs while also making our communities more resilient.

Historic federal and state investments in clean energy are fueling the demand for workers to build solar panels, wind turbines, battery storage, and other infrastructure to support the growth of renewable energy.

While investments are important, policies that support the transition to clean energy also keep SC competitive in attracting industries. Rep. Jason Elliott and other sponsors passed legislation (House Bill 4831) to help establish a strong supply chain for the wind industry in SC, which would attract more jobs.

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, total solar power accounted for 2.8% of South Carolina’s total net generation in 2021. The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) highlighted in their “Solar in the Southeast Report” that SC is a solar leader on a watts per customer basis. The report also touts Duke Energy as a leader in installed solar capacity in the Southeast. South Carolina has tripled solar electricity generation since 2018 and currently has a total investment of $2.6 billion.

Building the Clean Energy economy will require more than just wind turbines and solar panels. Other areas that will see workforce expansion in clean energy:

Advancing the electric grid to include more automation, increase resilience, and implement demand-side management technologies to reduce peak grid demand will bring jobs to SC. Computer Analysts will manage modernized grid systems that rely on computer control. A legion of technicians will deploy the smart technologies that help utilities better manage the power grid. Production workers will play a major role in assembling equipment for substations, including smart meters.

Meeting the demand for electric vehicles will undoubtedly require a vast workforce to assemble vehicles, but manufacturers can also capitalize on building components like batteries, electric motors, and other related technologies. The National Electric Vehicle Charging Network, funded by the Federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, will employ construction workers across the country to facilitate the buildout of charging infrastructure. In a boost to SC's clean energy economy, ABB E-mobility, a global EV charging manufacturer, recently announced they will be opening a facility in Columbia that will produce up to 10,000 EV chargers per year.

Energy storage systems save generated energy for use when customers need it most. Past generation models could deliver power generated from coal, natural gas, hydropower, and nuclear energy to meet customer demand. Solar and wind energy generation operates under different patterns, which has made energy storage the linchpin of the clean energy economy.

This subsection of the clean energy sector requires skilled workers for roles in manufacturing hardware and developing software, as well as managing information technology. In SC, embracing the development of facilities that incorporate storage technology can introduce more flexibility into the grid, improve grid efficiency, support renewables, and even protect against volatile fuel costs.

The transition to clean energy is not limited to these areas, and will include jobs in innovative technologies, energy efficiency, and bioenergy.

The energy sector has experienced vast growth with the total number of energy jobs in the US increasing from 7.5 million in 2020 to more than 7.8 million in 2021.

With recent federal investments from the Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act, there are no signs of slowing down as the US races to dominate the clean energy market, but we must continue to make investments and develop public policies that support the transition to clean energy while protecting ratepayers and maintaining affordability.

Michael Coleman is the Energy Advocate for Upstate Forever. You can email him at mcoleman@upstateforever.org

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