There is no doubt that as a society we have to work to transition away from fossil fuels and towards renewable sources of energy if for no other reason than one day all those dinosaur bones will dry up. For many, the environmental effects of carbon emissions is a timelier concern than the drying up of known reserves. Nonetheless, while making the shift away from fossil fuels and towards cleaner forms of energy, we must keep the capabilities of technology and most importantly the welfare of America’s workers at the forefront of all decisions.
Current State of Renewable Energy in the U.S.
As of 2019, 11% of the country’s energy came from renewable sources with solar accounting for 9% of that total and wind another 24%. While solar has seen the largest percent growth and
coal is declining, petroleum provides 37% and natural gas another 32% of our nation’s energy needs. The University of Michigan’s School of Environment & Sustainability predicts that renewable energy consumption will grow by 1.9% from 2019 to 2050 while overall consumption is expected to grow by only 0.3%. Furthermore, residential solar photovoltaic (PV) instillation is anticipated to grow by 6% year-over-year. Unfortunately, even at this rapid rate of growth, renewable sources are expected to provide only 16% of U.S. consumption by 2050, and 79% of our energy will continue to come from fossil fuels.
Clearly, although renewables are expected to rapidly grow for the foreseeable future, it is decades until they come close to even matching the energy output of fossil fuels at current growth estimations. While the argument can and is often made that the only way to increase the rate of renewable growth is to completely cut fossil fuels out of our economy, that is simply impossible given the current state of technology if we wish to maintain even a fraction of current economic output.
Renewable Energy Technology
Just like Moore’s Law states that the number of transistors on a data chip will double every two years, though the cost of corresponding computers is halved, one can assume similar results with technological advancements in renewable energy sources.
Today, wind turbines can best be described as inefficient and their output potential is mostly based off of the size of the blades, the larger the blades the more efficient the turbine. For example, according to Wind Power Monthly, a large land-based turbine can produce about 4 megawatts of electricity (12 if off-shore) and produce an average annual revenue of about $350,000. Unfortunately, that same turbine cost about $3M USD to install plus annual maintenance of about $50,000. Some quick math shows that average profitability takes roughly 9 years – a status only 11.6% of current wind turbines achieve.
As for solar, you may have heard the common saying that if we placed PV panels over only 0.6% of the U.S., we would produce more than enough energy to meet the country’s growing demand. Unfortunately, 0.6% of the country is roughly equivalent to the surface areas of the states of Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts combined. . . we haven’t even mentioned the battery storage and subsequent battery disposal requirements.
As you can see, we are a long way from renewable energy meeting our energy needs both in terms of cost and output potential. It is for this reason that our focus must be on research and development to improve renewables’ efficiency, and not preemptively slashing one industry for the betterment of another before those sectors are ready to meet the demands of a growing economy. Instead, why not encourage the government policy and the profits of the O&G sector to finance this necessary R&D. Hate them or love them, fossil fuels will remain the cornerstone for meeting global energy demands for decades. Reducing their use in significant manners cannot come from policy changes alone. While wind and solar are incapable of meeting today’s energy demands, it is hard to argue that technology, feed by the necessity of climate change and diminishing oil reserves, will be the catalyst that closes the gap.
Going hand-in-hand with the necessary technological advancements to increase the capabilities of renewables (and what we at BlueRecruit are most focused on) is the need to train the nation’s energy workforce of the future.
Renewable Energy Job Market
There are currently about 120,000 people employed in the U.S. Wind Industry while it is estimated that there will be about 3.9M Americans employed in the Oil & Gas Industry by 2025. Clearly, although renewables are growing at a far faster rate than fossil fuel industry jobs, this massive delta makes it impossible for workers to quickly shift industries. Just as a Lawyer cannot become a Software Developer overnight, neither can a Pipefitter immediately transition to become a Solar PV Installer. In actuality, it takes the average person two-years to complete the necessary training and certification to become a Wind Turbine Technician (WTT).
We at BlueRecruit highly recommend anyone with strong mechanical acumen (and who isn’t afraid of heights), to explore a career as a WTT. Afterall, the average annual technician salary is $52,910, and a recent report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor & Statistics found that WTT job availability is expected to grow by 61% through 2029. U.S. News & World Report even ranked WTT as the nation’s “#1 Best Maintenance & Repair Job” and “#3 Best Job Without a College Degree”.
Producing a well-trained population of Wind Turbine Technicians will take not only Federal Government policies but also the support of state and local governments to community colleges. This process, while vital, will not happen overnight. This is why it is the belief of BlueRecruit that prematurely eliminating Oil & Gas opportunities is detrimental to American workers. It is simply impossible to expect highly trained individuals to relocate and transition into completely different trades without sufficient allocation of time and resources for job training.
- Public and private invest in renewable energy R&D to improve energy output and storage capabilities.
- Support community colleges & other vocational training programs to transition Oil & Gas workers to renewable energy sectors.
- Continue fossil fuel exploration, drilling, and refinement – emphasizing clean natural gas.
- Recycle and listen to your Dad – turn off the dang lights when you leave the room!