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The New Clean Energy Economy Invests in American Jobs

Published as a Arizona Solar Center blog 2013-08-31

Employment opportunities in the energy sector are exploding. New enhanced exploration techniques have created a boom in the oil and gas fields. Jobs in this sector are projected to double by the end of the decade.


But perhaps even more promising is the boom in the clean energy field. This emerging market sector involves a number of new technologies and industries such as wind, smart grid, energy efficiency, renewable fuels, electric vehicles, natural gas vehicles, hybrids, public transportation, and more.

Solar energy is also a part of the clean energy market sector. And as the solar industry grows, so does its beneficial effect on society, such as greater energy independence, improved environmental enhancements, and positive economic impact on jobs.

Research studies and reports examining the clean energy economy over the past couple of years include analysis from a wide variety of sources: public, private and non-profit. A common theme in these studies points out that as home-grown sources of clean energy have become more cost-competitive and mainstream, they are spurring the creation of more jobs locally than traditional fossil fuels.

Despite the fact that these studies have varying estimates as to the future size of this new energy sector, one thing that is not in dispute is that clean energy generates more jobs per unit of energy delivered than fossil fuels. And in the case of solar PV, the average employment is several times more per unit of energy produced than jobs in coal, natural gas or even nuclear.

The solar industry experienced explosive job gains throughout the great recession. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, in 2012 there were more than 281 companies at work throughout the solar value chain in Arizona, employing 9,800 people. This was more than double the number of jobs in Arizona associated with the solar sector in 2011. By contrast, the coal industry has one mining operation and 16 power plant operations throughout Arizona. Coal is the largest source of electricity for Arizona consumers. But according to the Energy Information Administration, less than 1500 people are employed in coal mining and power plants in Arizona.

Make no mistake about it -- the clean economy is real. It's going to be the biggest job creating sector in the coming decades. Currently, there are approximately 120,000 full-time, permanent jobs nationwide related to solar and 1.2 million in the entire clean energy sector.

In July of 2011, the Brookings Institute, in collaboration with Batelle's Technology Partnership Practice, released the first comprehensive national clean economy study to quantify the clean job trends in the U.S. The study found 26 percent of all clean energy jobs are in manufacturing -- substantially greater than the nine percent of manufacturing jobs that comprise the whole of U.S. economy. Because manufacturing jobs require more specialized skills and pay higher salaries, the average clean energy worker earns 13 percent more overall than the average worker.

Community colleges, technical colleges, private and public universities recognize the jobs of the future are in the clean tech sector and are beginning to implement curriculum, programs and degrees for the sustainability professions and the clean economy.

Significant policy uncertainties, however, are threatening this economic boom in clean energy. Smart policy support is critical just as it has been throughout our history for the development of many of our modern industrial sectors, from the railroads to autos to the electric utilities and the internet. Government policy, money, expertise and coordination have contributed to the development of many beneficial industries; thus a strong argument can be made that helping the solar and the clean energy sector grow helps America prosper.

The major challenge facing us as these new technologies and industries emerge is whether or not our political leaders will continue to effect policies that provide certainty for private investment in a clean energy future. There are concerns that negative political pressure from vested interest groups and their lobbyists may force politicians to pull the plug, thereby allowing solar and clean energy and its associated jobs to develop elsewhere.

As we celebrate Labor Day, we must ask ourselves: Will solar energy, born here in the USA, carry a "Made in China" label in the future? Or will we take a stand in support of American jobs and ingenuity in a new clean energy economy?

Jim Arwood
Communications Director
Arizona Solar Center

AZ Dept. of Commerce "Bright Ideas" Report on Photovoltaics - Introduction

                    

Photovoltaics (PV) - Introduction

Throughout the history of mankind the sun has inspired worship, awe and fear.  In ancient Egypt, it was the sun god Ra who held the supreme place among all deities as the giver of life.  In Greek and Roman legend, the sun was a fiery chariot driven across the face of the sky.

We can only imagine how those ancient people might respond to the sight of thin, shiny rectangles harnessing the sun’s awesome energy.  Even today with knowledge of scientific principles, observers are astonished by the technology of photovoltaics.

Photovoltaic cells convert sunlight directly into electricity.  They have successfully powered space satellites since 1958 and now furnish electricity for a wide variety of applications on earth.

Solar-generated electricity powers water pumps, weather monitoring stations, fire watchtowers, and billboard lights, irrigation system, streetlights, boat battery chargers, and numerous other devices in Arizona and throughout the world.  Glistening photovoltaic panels can easily be seen at Tucson bus stops, atop many roadside emergency telephones, and near artwork along Phoenix freeways.

Solar cells in space work in a vacuum at extremely high or extremely low temperatures while exposed to intense radiation. Other systems have been used on frozen tundra, in scorching deserts and on mountain peaks.  Tougher tests for a young technology would be hard to design.

Nevertheless, photovoltaic systems have established a record of reliability and have proven cost effective for many uses.  They produce no pollution in creating electricity and require no water to operate.  As environmental problems escalate and solar cells costs are reduced, these systems will almost certainly play an important role in our energy future.

The remainder of the "Photovoltaics" pages are here:

Electrical Generation - PV & Thermal Solar



Photovoltaics



How a PV Cell Works

 
Power Tower



Dish Sterling



Trough

Electrical Generation

The generation of electricity from solar energy can be achieved through two major technology alternatives. One uses the light from the sun to generate electricity directly, (photovoltaic technologies), and the other uses the heat from the sun to increase the temperature of a working fluid which-in turn can be used to generate electricity, (solar thermal technologies). Each of these major alternatives can, in turn, be subdivided into variants of the major technology. Photovoltaic technologies fall into crystalline, multi-crystalline, thin-film or concentrator variants while the solar thermal technologies fall into trough, power tower, dish engine and thermal electric variants.

Photovoltaics

Generally speaking, How a PV Cell Works describes the use of a semiconductor material that is exposed to sunlight. The energy of the incident light displaces electrons from their normal atomic orbits and an electrode grid structure on the surface of the semiconductor collects these electrons and makes them available for use in an external circuit. This is very similar to the way that the chemical reaction and the electrodes in a dry battery cell make electrons available for external use.

The terms crystalline, thin film and concentrator describe the manner in which the semi-conducting material is processed and optimized as a photovoltaic cell. Crystalline cells are fabricated from ingots of the semiconductor material, usually silicon, that are cut into relatively thin slices, processed to optimize the electron collection efficiency and laminated into a protective enclosure. Thin film cells are extremely thin layers of semi-conducting material that are evaporated onto a substrate, and concentrating cells use a plastic lens to concentrate sunlight from a large area onto a much smaller area of crystalline semi-conducting material. All types have their merits and problems and are described in detail in the referenced locations.

Download the Arizona Consumer's Guide - this booklet is designed to guide you through the process of buying a solar electric system.  This document is somewhat out of date (2000) and does not mention some newer information. NOTE: You will need Adobe's Acrobat Reader to open, view, and print this document.  Acrobat is freely available and can be downloaded from Adobe's Web site. Arizona Consumer's Guide (PDF Format)

Visit the National Geographic's web site and take the: PV Quiz


Solar Thermal

Both the trough and power tower solar thermal technologies use mirrors to concentrate the heat from the sun onto a vessel containing a heat transfer fluid. The fluid is then pumped into a steam generator where the heat is transferred to water turn it into steam. The steam can then be used to spin a conventional steam turbine connected to a generator to make electricity. As you can see, the size of the concentrating systems makes them impractical for homes.

In the case of the trough, the mirror is a long parabola with a steel tube containing the heat transfer fluid running along the focal axis of the mirror. The axis of the mirror is usually aligned in a North-South direction and the mirror is rotated from East to West as the day progresses so that the energy from the sun is continually focused onto the steel tube. Rows of mirror/tube assemblies are used to form large multi-acre solar fields from which the heated transfer fluid is collected and used in the generation of steam.

The power tower system is a little different in that all of the transfer fluid heating is achieved in a heat receiver on the top of a tower located in the center of a field of computer controlled mirrors, or heliostats. Cold fluid is pumped up to the top of the tower, the heliostats focus the sun's energy onto the receiver and heat the fluid which is subsequently returned to the ground and used in a steam generator in the same way as the heat transfer fluid in the trough system.

Dish/engine systems are somewhat different in that the heat from the sun is used to heat a working fluid within a heat engine. The rotating shaft of the engine is connected to a generator, which produces electricity without the need to go through a steam generation process. The engine is located at the focal point of a parabolic dish mirror, which is made to track the sun across the sky throughout the day.


Good Resources: