RALEIGH – When it comes to traditional energy jobs, North Carolina lags behind. But don’t worry, there’s a flipside.

“When we talk about low-emissions technologies, North Carolina is capturing these jobs at a rate far above the rest of the nation – 65 percent versus 45 percent, respectively,” says Susan Sanford, executive director of Research Triangle Cleantech Cluster (RTCC), an industry-led initiative focused on accelerating cleantech innovation.

That was among the many takeaways when the group held its annual meeting at Embassy Suites RDU on Thursday, highlighted by the presenting of the latest findings from the 2018 U.S. Energy and Employment Report.

Topping the list in job growth is the area of energy efficiency, where the state represents 3.7 percent of all U.S. Energy Efficiency jobs – or 84,030 jobs.

Struggle to fill jobs

In fact, there might be even more jobs if companies could find more workers. Just as other employers are finding in these days of strong economic growth and very low unemployment, so too is the case among cleantech firms.

“Over the last year, 53.5 percent of energy-related employers in North Carolina hired new employees.,” the report says.

But it also notes: “These employers reported the greatest overall difficulty in hiring workers for jobs in Energy Efficiency.”

Across the five areas of employment discussed in the report, more than 60 percent of employers say it was “very difficult” or “somewhat difficult” to find employees:

  • Electric Power Generation, 74 percent
  • Transmission, Distribution and Storage, 65 percent
  • Energy Efficiency, 82 percent
  • Fuels, 58 percent
  • Motor Vehicles, 70 percent

Much of the growth, says Sanford, is coming from energy-efficient lighting, heating and cooling, and manufacturing despite the difficulty in finding talent.

“In fact, we are seventh in the nation in energy-efficient manufacturing. So I would say another takeaway, not so much a trend, is that North Carolina has a diversified energy industry.”

Photo courtesy of Susan Sanford

Susan Sanford

Solar makes up the largest segment of employment related to electric power generation with 9,173 jobs. That’s followed by traditional fossil fuel generation at 5,324 jobs.

North Carolina is home to one of the nation’s largest solar energy sectors from jobs to power generation.

Overall, however, the traditional energy sector is 1.2 percent of total state employment – compared to 2.3 percent of national employment.

Triangle’s cleantech jobs on the rise

On a local level, the job outlook for cleantech jobs is looking positive.

“Cleantech jobs in the Triangle have grown by 24.4 percent in the past five years, in an industry that is growing nationwide by 6.7 percent,” Sanford says. “That is a tremendous competitive advantage for our region.”

Perhaps that shouldn’t come as a big surprise. Among the cleantech leaders that call the Triangle home are ABB, Duke Energy, Field2Base, Itron, PowerSecure, RTI International, SAS, Sensus, and Trilliant.

That’s certainly helped when it comes to keeping up with the latest in grid modernization and the Internet of Things (IoT).

The trend towards becoming smart cities is another part of the picture, says Sanford. By spreading a vast number of sensors over a town or city, planners get a better idea of what’s happening.

Take the town of Cary, for example.

“Residents can be notified on their mobile phone or with a call from town staff, in real-time when they have a water leak in their home,” she says. “This Sensus and SAS solution helps homeowners save money and prevent home damage, but more important, it helps the town provide better service to residents.”

Collaboration is key

 Looking ahead, the only way to sustain this growth is through collaboration, says Sanford.

Cities have limited resources, which can make it difficult to drive sustainability and cleantech solutions.

Developers also need support, especially with mega projects like Chatham Park near Pittsboro in the works. That 7,000-acre community is expected to be on the same scale as Research Triangle Park.

“They are out there with a future-forward vision of providing a clean, green community to residents and businesses,” says Sanford, “but they are experts in real estate development, not cleantech.

“We have to rally around people and organizations that are in the best position to use cleantech to make a difference in communities.”