As demand for renewable energy sources increases, energy-conserving industries are creating headlines with new and expanded projects and job creation. Government renewable energy standards (RES) are expected to significantly affect the wind, solar, biomass, waste-to-energy, and hydropower industries. A study entitled "Jobs Impact of a National Renewable Energy (RE) Standard," conducted by Navigant Consulting, Inc., noted that instituting a national RES of 25 percent by 2025 would spur an additional 274,000 jobs. The study also cautioned that without such standards, industries like wind and biomass could face stagnation.
The potential benefits span the entire nation - with substantial biomass and municipal solid waste-to-energy projects in the Southeast; to the wide range of technologies in traditional Mid-Atlantic and Midwest manufacturing states; to the wind-rich Plains and Midwest states; to the West, where significant growth potential exists in harnessing solar, wind, and hydropower. Let's take a look at some of the places where this growth is occurring across the United States.
Solar: A Hot Topic
With many renewable energy projects, especially wind and solar, being outsourced to China, federal RES incentives are expected to not only keep jobs onshore, but also to encourage foreign investment in the United States.
In January 2011, President Obama signed a military authorization law that contains a "Buy American" provision for solar panels purchased by the Department of Defense. The New York Times noted that China has expanded to become the world's dominant producer of solar panels, accounting for at least half of the world's production last year, and this legislation is expected to encourage more domestic manufacturing.
German-based SolarWorld, which has received $82.2 million in renewable-energy manufacturing tax credits - the most for a solar manufacturer so far- lauded the new focus on domestically based solar energy. The firm, which operates a large production facility in Hillsboro, Oregon, recently celebrated the addition of its 1,000th worker in December 2010, the establishment of the equivalent of four factories, and the overhaul of its operations in Camarillo, California.
In February, Camarillo, California-based Power-One, Inc. - a manufacturer of devices that convert power produced from batteries and solar panels - opened a 122,000-square-foot facility in Phoenix, Arizona, which is expected to employ 350 people in the next five years, and could eventually employ 1,000 individuals. Richard Thompson, the firm's CEO and president, credited the state's "solar corridor" created by Governor Jan Brewer, as well as the potential collaboration on innovative technologies with Arizona State University, for attracting the factory, which will produce photovoltaic panels and wind inverters.
New Room for Vroom
Also in January, Vice President Joe Biden announced a new federal program to accelerate the wide-scale adoption of electric vehicles. During a tour of a Greenfield, Indiana factory run by Ener1 - a manufacturer of lithium-ion battery systems for electric vehicles, grid energy storage, and industrial electronics - the VP noted that the plan not only creates jobs, but also sparks "whole new industries that will ensure our competitiveness for years to come - like electric vehicle manufacturing."
A $118.5 million grant from the Department of Energy will allow the New York-headquartered Ener1 to expand the work force at its Indianapolis manufacturing and assembly facilities to more than 1,000 by the beginning of 2013. Ener1 is the principal investor in the dedicated electric-vehicle manufacturer Think™, manufactured in Elkhart, Indiana.
Southern Idaho's energy sector received a boost from a $4.4 million U.S. Economic Development Administration Grant awarded to the College of Southern Idaho for the construction of its $7 million Applied Technology and Innovation Center. Development of training programs to prepare skilled future employees is imperative because of recently announced green energy projects, including the construction of 450 wind turbines, the development of the Raft River Geothermal Project south of Twin Falls, and the installation of a 150,000-panel solar energy array in Jerome County.
Interestingly, the state's more than 500,000 dairy cattle in the Twin Falls area are involved in $14 million of biomass power projects that utilize anaerobic digesters and manure-to-energy power plants. "The large concentration of dairies in southern Idaho provides significant opportunities to convert animal waste into energy," said Ryan Coleman of Cargill Environmental Finance in Boise. "With state power companies willing to invest in biomass-generated power, and Idaho's alternative-energy-supported regulatory environment, southern Idaho is an ideal location for biomass energy operations."
Breath of Fresh Air
Several states have reported wind energy manufacturing activities. According to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), Michigan has invested heavily in attempting to develop a wind energy manufacturing economy, in order to revitalize the state's manufacturing base that was greatly affected by the downsizing of the automotive industry. Through its Michigan Economic Development Corp., the state has offered grants, loans, and tax incentives to help transition its automotive supplier base to new wind-related industries. In the last three years, more than 35 firms have sprung up or retooled their factories to supply parts to the commercial wind industry.
In addition, Ohio has become a leading U.S. component supplier for wind turbine OEMs. Wind-related companies make bearings, fasteners, control systems, composites, gearboxes, brakes, generators, metal coatings, gears, hydraulics, sensors, and electronics needed to manufacture the components found in a typical utility-size wind turbine.
In Hutchinson, Kansas, Siemens Energy opened a new 300,000-square-foot wind turbine nacelle assembly facility in December 2010. Located in America's heartland, the project has highway and rail access to wind farms in the United States and throughout the Americas. The factory currently employs 130 people, with triple that amount expected when it becomes fully operational.
In Washington's Palouse area, the $178 million federally designated Pacific Northwest Smart Grid Demonstration Project will involve more than 60,000 metered customers in Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming. It will make Pullman, Washington, the region's first "Smart City." Much of the technology was developed locally - Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories in Pullman is producing many of the project's relay devices, with Itron, Avista Utilities, the city of Pullman, Washington State University, Hewlett Packard, and Spirae as other key partners.
In his 2011 State of the Union Speech, President Obama called for continuing research and incentives in renewable energy to "break our dependence on oil." But, he recognized the need for diversity. "Some folks want wind and solar. Others want nuclear, clean coal, and natural gas. To meet this goal, we will need them all," Obama said.