Greening California’s Workforce

As the second year of the COVID-19 period comes to a close, the focus is ever more on how to build a better, fairer, and cleaner economy. Momentum around a ‘Green Jobs’ agenda has been gathering for years, but recent federal stimulus bills—this Fall’s $1 trillion Infrastructure Bill and the Spring’s American Rescue Plan Act —include the largest ever commitments to green economic development and represent a sizeable commitment to building a clean energy workforce. In California the passage of another year means one less year before 2030, when emissions are supposed to be 40 percent below their 1990 levels and 2045, when the state is supposed to have a 100 percent clean energy portfolio. Achieving these goals requires unprecedented changes to the state’s workforce, as California has historically been one of the largest oil-producing states in the nation with a large workforce in fossil fuel industries. This chapter surveys the current landscape of the state and its regional economies, taking stock of how far along California is in the clean energy economy transition, and identifying opportunities.

Defining “Green Jobs” in the Clean Energy Economy: The US Energy Employment Report (USEER) is the most cited authority on the number of green jobs in America at a given time. It tracks the number of employees who spend “some portion of time” producing goods and services for with Electric Power Generation; Electric Power Transmission, Distribution, and Storage; Energy Efficiency, including Heating, Cooling and Building Envelope; Fuels, including Extraction, Processing, Production, and Distribution; and Transportation, including Motor Vehicles. The greener portions of these energy-intensive industries are involved in researching, generating, and transmitting carbon-efficient energy and energy-efficient appliances. This analysis relies on USEER to understand the number and concentration of green industry jobs in California.

Identifying Green Economies
  • States and regions with a higher density of green economic activities as a proportion of all economic activities are said to specialize in the green economy.

  • Location quotients (LQ) are key economic benchmarks that capture how specialized an economy is in a given activity compared to the national economy; an a LQ of one or higher indicates specialization in that given occupation or industry. These findings examine how dense green industry jobs and occupations are compared to the average American economy.

Power Generation Industry Jobs
  • California has the cleanest and greenest economy in terms of power generation in the United States.

  • Nationally, there are more solar energy production jobs (334,992) than in all fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, and oil) combined (211,462).

  • While California currently has a relatively small specialization in wind power generation (ranked 35th out of the 50 states), recent developments in offshore wind have the potential to create jobs and economic value. For example, the proposed Morro Bay project is expected to create $3.7 billion in economic value for the state, the equivalent of 11,368 jobs.

  • Every metropolitan and micropolitan region in California (of those that report data) has a solar generation LQ above 1.5, and of the top 25 regions in the nation with the highest solar LQs, 13 of them are in California.

  • The state’s largest metro areas employ the most solar workers: San Francisco ranks first (39,598 workers), followed by Los Angeles (29,414), and San Diego (17,347).

Energy Transmission, Distribution and Storage (TDS) Industry Jobs
  • California’s 18,571 storage jobs qualify it for fifth place among all states in terms of storage specialization, but the state’s smart grid and microgrid employment specializations are still lower than would be expected, ranking only 20th in smart grid and 31st in microgrid specializations among all US states.

  • Within California, a few regions specialize in smart grid employment: Vallejo, Red Bluff, Yuba City, Santa Rosa, and Los Angeles. Statewide, however, only 1.8 percent of all TDS jobs are related to microgrid technology.

  • Meaningful increases in energy storage employment can occur relatively quickly—Nevada is now the most specialized energy storage state with 8,704 jobs, though they only had 504 jobs in the sector as of 2016.

Energy Appliance and Materials Industries
  • California is not particularly specialized in higher-efficiency industries, ranking 16th in Energy Star & Efficient Lighting (73,016 jobs) and 31st in High Efficiency HVAC (64,703 job) compared to other states. Comparatively, California is 7th in Traditional HVAC with 124,384 jobs.

  • The highest Energy Star and Energy Efficiency LQ in California is San Jose (1.99), which may be influenced, in part, by R&D activities in that region.

  • No California region has an Advanced Materials LQ higher than one, and regions with strong specialization in this industry are mostly concentrated in the upper Midwest and South. The top two regions specializing in this industry are located in Michigan—Iron Mountain (LQ of 8.27) and Battle Creek (LQ of 6.62).

California’s Green Occupations
  • More than 2.7 million Californians work in green-designated occupations, both in and outside of traditional green industries.

  • With a location quotient of 0.91, California has a lower density of green jobs than would be implied by its total number of jobs overall. The top three states are Utah (LQ of 1.28), Wyoming (LQ of 1.23), and Indiana (LQ of 1.2)

  • California’s ranks 43rd in green occupational specialization, but within California, Stockton and Riverside have LQs above 1 and Vallejo’s LQ is 1.

  • Blue collar workers (workers who are primarily engaged in physical labor) make up a plurality of all green jobs in California (56%). Knowledge-intensive service workers (e.g., scientists, managers) make up 27 percent and service occupations make up 17 percent of all green jobs in California.