Clean Jobs to Save the Climate

Earth Island News

Climate Solutions

The “clean energy” industry is expected to average $180 billion in sales annually over the next 20 years - twice the revenue of commercial aircraft manufacturing. The industry (conservatively projected to represent a $3.5 trillion market over the next 20 years) provides the world with windturbines, solar panels, biomass energy, fuel cells, small hydroelectric units, geothermal plants, power management systems and other energy-efficiency solutions. Advanced materials science and information technology are merging to create sophisticated equipment that can concentrate nature’s abundant energy into economically useful forms and ensure efficient energy management.

The Northwest - Washington, Oregon and British Columbia - is home to nearly 40 of the industry’s key global players. Ballard Energy Systems of Burnaby, BC, leads the world fuel cell business. (When Ford and Daimler roll out their first commercial fuel cell powered vehicles, Ballard products will be under the hood.) Spokane-based Avista is a pacesetter in fuel cells for home and business use. Xantrex/Trace, a dominant power electronics firm with headquarters in Burnaby and a manufacturing plant in Arlington, Washington, makes around half of the inverters and electronic intelligence built into the world’s solar panels, fuel cells and windturbines. BP Solar, the globe’s top solar panel maker, uses Trace inverters in its products.

Siemens, another major solar manufacturer, refines all the silicon for its panels at its Portland plant. Applied Power Corp. of Lacey, Washington, ranks among the world’s leading solar engineering firms.

Altogether, the Northwest clean energy industry employs 6,000 and makes $1.4 billion annually in sales. A $2.5 billion industry employing 12,000 is projected for 2020. With a new public priority on energy independence, a new study sponsored by Climate Solutions projects that the region’s clean energy sector could eventually employ 32,000 and bring in $6.3 billion annually.

Climate Solutions and the Energy Foundation joined leading Northwest utilities (including the Bonneville Power Administration, BC Hydro and Seattle City Light) and key economic development agencies (including BC Green Economy Secretariat, BC Ministry of Employment and Investment, Seattle City Office of Economic Development, Portland Development Commission and the Washington Office of Trade and Economic Development) to publish a study called Poised for Profit: How Clean Energy Can Power the Next High-Tech Job Surge in the Northwest.

The report identified three areas where the Northwest has potential to develop world-class industry clusters producing fuel cells, solar panels and power electronics. The region also has opportunities in wind, biomass and energy efficiency.

Converting these strengths into jobs and revenues will require: increased funding for energy technology research centers at public universities and laboratories; support for applied research labs where businesses can test and commercialize new energy technologies; extension of existing technology R&D tax incentives to new clean energy businesses; establishment of a clean-energy business association and clearinghouse; investments in clean-energy business incubators; training, counseling and help for clean-energy entrepreneurs; creating incentives for early purchasers of clean-energy products; increasing government clean-energy purchases; requiring utilities to purchase clean energy; and expanding market opportunities to bring clean-energy products and services to ordinary consumers.

To gain the full potential of these clean-energy industries, the Northwest’s public agencies must begin to act together. New York State and Chicago are already mounting comprehensive efforts to build clean-energy businesses.

The Northwest has a great opportunity to help the world adopt the advanced clean-energy technologies that can reduce climate-disrupting fossil-fuel emissions. In a time of economic uncertainty, this region is presented with a stellar opportunity to become a world-class lean-energy-technology exporter employing tens of thousands. The Northwest will be a significant clean-energy player, but to what degree will depend on the level of commitment our public institutions make to encourage this new industry.

Patrick Mazza is a writer and researcher for Climate Solutions. All Climate Solutions publications, including Poised for Profit, are at For more information write or call (360) 352-1763.

Climate Solutions: Working by Example
Anyone who has ever seen a smoke-spewing VW bus with a “Love Your Mother” bumper sticker proudly displayed on the back will recognize the kind of common social disconnection that Climate Solutions is working to address.

In addition to installing a rooftop solar photovoltaic system on our office to offset part of our electrical energy needs, we’ve also purchased enough new windpower to offset all of the remaining planet-warming CO2 that’s released into the atmosphere through our office and travel activities.

“We wanted to make a strong statement about the need for personal action here and now,” says Climate Solutions Co-director Paul Horton. “So, for a relatively small annual investment, we’ve reduced our carbon footprint to zero, or as near as you can get.

“We have some self-interest in it as well,” Horton adds, “since our headquarters and sustainable energy education center are located in an area of the Puget Sound coastline that is most likely to be submerged beneath the ocean as sea levels rise.”

Until recently, most Washington electricity users, like many others around the nation, had no choice but to pay for whatever power their utility had to offer (which in most cases is far from green). Now, thanks to the non-profit Bonneville Environmental Foundation, anyone can purchase Green Tags - a form of clean-power credits that supports the development of new renewable energy [].

Another way workplaces can make a difference is by championing smart transportation choices like walking, busing, biking and telecommuting. The Climate Solutions staff shines here as well with bike racks out front, flexible work schedules to accommodate telecommuting, a reduction in the rate of reimbursement for automobile commuting and the promotion of employee car-sharing.

Next time you’re in Olympia, stop by the Climate Solutions headquarters and take a tour of our Energy Outreach Center at 610 E. Fourth Ave. - Washington’s only walk-in sustainable energy education center, complete with a wide range of resource-efficient and renewable-energy products and displays.

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