A push to expand the green economy in the West

The first task in identifying opportunities in the green economy is to define what that means. Just what is a 'green economy" anyway, and what careers are included in that?

A new joint report and jobs plan by the governors of three western states and British Columbia says the green economy is more than just a subset or industry segment. Rather, it is the introduction of new technology and processes in all industries that reduce the consumption of scarce natural resources, reduce environmental impacts and improve efficiency.

"The focus should be on the 'greening' of all industries and all sectors, a more broad-based approach that is essential to accelerated investment attraction and job growth," contends the report entitled, "The West Coast Clean Economy".

Not surprisingly, the ramifications of such a technological overhaul are mammoth. In 2010, the clean economy on the West Coast totaled $47 billion and counted more than 500,000 jobs. Considering the population of the combined region was 50 billion, the potential for growth is huge, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire said. He said the clean economy could triple by 2020, "given the right policies."

Worldwide, it's huge. A clean economy is the "single most important global opportunity on the medium-term horizon," with revenue expected to reach $2.3 trillion by 2020, according to the study, which was commissioned by The Pacific Coast Collaborative (a joint entity consisting of leaders of California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia) and completed by GLOBE Advisors (GLOBE) and the Center for Climate Strategies (CCS).

Not alone

This study reinforces others that contend energy efficiency and green building offer the best employment opportunities. Retrofitting older buildings with the most energy-efficiency equipment and using green construction techniques generate the biggest bank for the buck.

The commercial, institutional, and residential green building market in the US is projected to reach $128.6 billion by 2013, more than double its value of $52.3 billion in 2009. The values include building retrofits and renovation, as well as construction. Annual growth rates could reach 24.3% and 26.5% for the commercial and residential sectors respectively.

Energy-efficiency retrofits represent the “low hanging fruit” in this area, according to the study. That's because money saved on energy costs can be spent elsewhere in the economy. The Edison Foundation's Institute for Electric Efficiency says in this report that the cost of energy-efficiency measures averages 3.5 cents for each kWh saved in the United States. CleanEdge cites that data in this report, and notes that energy efficiency measures are the cheapest source of power.

The Edison Foundation said efficiency programs saved over 112 TWh in 2010, enough to power more than 9.7 million U.S. homes for one year, and avoided the generation of 78 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.

Buildings are responsible for more than a third of energy use worldwide, accounting for up to 80 percent of carbon emissions in large urban regions, CleanEdge states. Most U.S. buildings were constructed before 1990 and still use outdated energy technology. "Retrofitting the built environment has become priority number one for energy-efficiency advocates." CleanTech says, citing UCLA data that energy costs could be slashed an average of 22 percent through retrofits.

Finding a job

Energy efficiency is perhaps the most promising employment and growth segment, but The Pacific Coast Collaborative has a whole jobs plan in place, sealed with an MOU. It calls for establishing a green highway, sharing best practices, developing coordinated initiatives and a host of other programs. Other promising opportunities are in the following categories, according to The West Coast Clean Economy and CleanEdge studies, are:

1/ Environmental Protection & Resource Management
a. Recycling;
b. more efficient infrastructure;
c., conservation;
d. restoration of damaged ecosystems;
2/ Clean transportation
a. Electric and alternative-fuel vehicles;
b. enhanced public transit;
c. lower-carbon fuel sources such as natural gas;
3/ Clean energy supply
a. Distributed energy system;
b . Smart grid infrastructure and transmission;
c/ Ehanced integration of energy from clean and renewable sources.
4/ Knowledge and Support
a. Educational institutions for workforce skills development and strengthening centers of excellence that build on the knowledge base of the clean economy;
a/ Municipal waste in the U.S. totals 435 million metric tons each year and two-thirds of the developed world's garbage ends in landfills and incinerators. Waste-recovery technology is attracting financing, strategic partnerships and support.
6/Energy storage
a. Lots of interest, but costs have to decline

Not dead

The CleanEdge report suggests that headlines proclaiming the demise of clean energy are over reaching. The combined global market just for solar, wind and biofuel in 2011 was $246 billion, up from 2010. The industry is experiencing growing pains, and some companies are finding they can't compete with China.

"But clean tech isn't withering on the vine as some would proclaim," CleanEdge says., "But instead is continuing its rapid expansion, witnessed by the growth of green buildings, smart meters, hybrid electric vehicles, distributed and centralized renewables, LED lighting, and a host of other clean-tech breakthroughs that are becoming increasingly ubiquitous. "

Photo: Kings County Unified School District electric bus (the first in the nation) in front of Capitol with director of transportation John Clements