The Biden administration envisions a fully decarbonized power sector by 2035, accelerating the timelines of most utilities that have committed to decarbonizing by 2050.1 These utilities were already facing an uncertain path to achieve their decarbonization targets through the scheduled fossil fuel plant retirements, renewable additions, and flexibility requirements. The administration’s linkage of decarbonization to job creation and equity anticipates electric infrastructure and workforce investments commensurate with the power sector’s key role in achieving economywide decarbonization. However, the 15-year timeline will likely necessitate unprecedented capacity turnovers, buildouts, and digitalization. How might rapid decarbonization impact the workforce?
This report explores how the power sector is expected to grow, and the workforce composition to change, to meet the new proposed target. We then analyze growing gaps in the digital skills required in the power sector and what can be done to fill those gaps. Finally, we show how power companies could rebrand, retrain the existing talent, and recruit from new talent pools to achieve this transition.
Renew, Reshape, and Refuel jobs to decarbonize by 2035
A tale of two (work)forces: Groundbreaking growth and delimited decline
Decarbonization of the US power sector by 2035 could entail both unprecedented workforce growth and the elimination of entire workforce segments. Job growth is expected to mostly stem from the buildout of solar and wind generation capacity at levels surpassing 100 GW annually—40% higher than the existing annual record of capacity additions for any energy source, to be sustained for decades—and a doubling of the transmission and distribution (T&D) infrastructure to support it.2 While this growth will dwarf job losses from a complete coal phaseout and natural gas transition, the locational concentration of fossil-fuel generation could have an outsized impact on the affected communities and workforces.
Groundbreaking growth in the broader power sector
The power sector workforce could triple by 2035 under the decarbonization scenario (figure 1).3 The growth would yield over 8 million jobs while far surpassing the projected 13% employment growth rate for the general economy.4 The analysis takes full account of power sector job growth by considering both the core and the broader sector. We define the core power sector as utility-scale electric generation, transmission, and distribution, in alignment with the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) categorization. This definition, however, is limiting. It does not capture booming occupations, such as wind turbine service technicians and solar photovoltaic (PV) installers, which are the fastest and the third-fastest growing occupations in the United States, respectively.5 This is because wind and solar jobs are mostly classified in the construction and manufacturing sectors, unlike the fuel-based (coal, natural gas, and nuclear) power generation jobs that mostly fall within the core sector. Furthermore, the core entirely excludes distributed solar generation, which creates 11 more jobs per GW than utility-scale solar.6 It also excludes many jobs that directly result from utility contracts, incentives, and/or financing. What we define as the broader power sector captures these jobs by including firms engaged in facility construction, turbine and other generation equipment manufacturing, operations and maintenance (O&M), and wholesale parts distribution for electric generating technologies, as well as utility-related energy efficiency and electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure jobs. The 2035 job estimate in the decarbonization scenario reflects the potential job creation if the domestic manufacturing base grew to fully supply the renewable and storage capacity growth, another goal of the current administration.