The Hottest Jobs in Cleantech and Where to Find Them

The Hottest Jobs in Cleantech and Where to Find Them

Solar power, biofuels and biomaterials continue to hold the best cleantech job opportunities in the U.S. with the San Francisco Bay Area and Silicon Valley again topping the list of 15 metro areas in the country with the greatest job activity, according to a new study from Clean Edge.

The firm released its "Clean Tech Job Trends 2010" this morning. Clean Edge's second annual look at the state of cleantech jobs in the U.S. and around the world is replete with data on the sectors and regions that hold the most promise for cleantech employment, salaries for cleantech jobs, manufacturing trends and resources for jobseekers and others who want to know more about the industry.

Top 5 SectorsThe report was authored by Clean Edge co-founder and Managing Director Ron Pernick, Senior Editor Clint Wilder and Trevor Winnie, research and marketing associate for the firm.  (Full disclosure: Greener World Media Chairman and Executive Editor Joel Makower also is a Clean Edge co-founder.)

Although the Great Recession has been officially declared as being over, "the global economy continues to be in historically dire shape," the report said, adding that now more than ever "the clean energy sector is delivering new job and economic opportunities, as it moves from a once-marginalized niche to an increasingly cost-competitive, mainstream offering."

"There are many challenges facing the sector," the report acknowledged, "but clean energy and more broadly, cleantech, offer some of the largest growth opportunities on the global economic horizon. Green jobs can pay well and span the spectrum from "green-collar" trade jobs to Ph.D.-level engineers."

Citing data that the total jobs in industries related to renewable energy exceeded 3 million globally in 2009, the report said that the top four cleantech job sectors overall are energy, transportation, water and materials. In the U.S., the top five sectors are solar power, biofuels and biomaterials, smart grid and energy efficiency, wind power and advanced tranportation and vehicles.
Top 15 US Metro Areas
For a second year, the greater San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose metro area leads the U.S. regions with the most job activity. California's Los Angeles to Riverside corridor is in second place with New England's Boston-Cambridge-Quincy metro area in third.

Four California regions made it onto the U.S. list of the top 15 hot areas for cleantech jobs. The report noted, however, "The Golden State faces an uncertain cleantech future if the state's voters pass a November ballot measure, Proposition 23, that would suspend the state's landmark greenhouse gas reduction laws."

Globally, China dominated a list of top cleantech pure-play employers with six companies in the report's Top 10 roster in this category. The U.S. came in a distant second with two firms.

"China has risen from clean energy neophyte to global clean energy powerhouse over the past five years," Pernick said in a statement announcing the report. "China has become the country to watch, analyze, and, at times, emulate. Ignoring China's cleantech ambitions and activities puts one's own cleantech initiatives at great peril."

The report's section on manufacturing expanded on China's position in the global race. While its not likely that the competition for cleantech jobs will end soon, "looking forward, the global landscape for cleantech manufacturing jobs won't always be a clear-cut 'us vs. them' search for the cheapest labor costs," the report said. "Unusual cross-border partnerships, which may be the wave of the future, are starting to form."

Among the bright spots in the report package were the results from a salary survey compiled in collaboration with online compensation data firm PayScale. The 2010 Clean Edge/PayScale Clean-Tech Compensation Survey lists median pay for 50 jobs and shows that college and advanced degrees aren't necessary to pull down good salaries.

Posts typically held by a person who has completed high school or earned an associate degree ranged from $30,300 a year for a mid-level electrical/electronic equipment assembler to $82,200 annually for a power system operators.

Jobs at the highest end of the salary spectrum were senior-level environmental engineering manager, median pay of $106,000 a year; a mid-level energy efficiency finance manager, median pay $107,000 a year; and senior-level power plant manager, median pay $112,000 a year. Job holders in those posts generally has a bachelor's degree.

Other report highlights include:

Five Job Trends to Watch

1. Clean-Tech Jobs Sprout South Of the Border. Low wages, though not as low as in some Asian countries, and proximity to the U.S. are major plusses for locating solar and other manufacturing in Mexico.

2. Feed-In Tariffs Whet Renewable Energy Appetites, Spur Job Growth. Known as FIT, these incentives are expected to continue to play an integral role in cleantech job creation and product deployment.

3. Tomorrow's Auto Industry: Where does American labor stand? Obama spends billions to keep the U.S. in the game.

4. Energy Efficiency - Clean Energy's Better Half.
While clean energy boosters "sometimes overlook the easy efficiency fixes," look for more companies to  "embrace efficiency improvements as a cheap and productive way to reduce and clean up energy consumption," the report said.

5. Global Competition Heats Up For Emerging Offshore Wind Industry.
The offshore wind industry picked up steam this summer, "showing every indication that 2010 would be a record-breaking year for the blossoming industry," said the report.

Five Key Steps to Building a Clean-Tech Jobs Future

  • Deploy aggressive national renewable portfolio standards with "teeth."
  • Support green infrastructure development.
  • Implement -- and be sure to enforce -- efficiency, fuel, and emissions rules and standards.
  • Establish green banks, bonds and funds.
  • Implement carbon taxes.

The 28-page report also includes a meaty resource guide with links to cleantech job boards and reports, conferences, career fairs, networking groups, education and training programs, books, blogs and social media. The report is available from Clean Edge at

Image CC licensed by Flickr user joanna8555. Insets courtesy of Clean Edge.