Time Gets Clean Energy Fact Backwards


Suggesting that the failed solar company Solyndra is representative of a larger trend, Time magazine claimed that clean energy jobs grew slower than the economy as a whole between 2003-2010. In fact, the opposite is true. Time's purported source, the Brookings Institution, actually found that clean energy jobs grew "more than twice as fast as the rest of the economy."

Time Botches Clean Energy Statistic

Citing Brookings, Time Claimed Clean Energy Jobs Grew Slower Than Overall Economy. Stating that Solyndra's failure "raised questions about the job promises of green energy," White House correspondent Michael Scherer wrote in the October 10 issue of Time:

Solyndra was not alone in its scant record of direct job creation. High-tech factories tend to require relatively little human labor after their initial construction phase. Energy Department documents show that the $1.3 billion investment in the Oregon wind farm expected to create only 35 permanent jobs, while many other loan recipients hired fewer than 100 people. In fact, from 2003 to 2010, the number of clean-energy jobs in the U.S. grew at an annual rate of 3.4%, slower than the 4.2% growth in jobs for the economy as a whole, according to the Brookings Institution. [Time, 10/10/11, emphasis added]

Brookings: Clean Energy Jobs Grew Much Faster Than The Overall Economy

Time Mistakenly Reported Figures For "Clean Economy" Instead Of "Clean Energy." The Brookings report surveyed "the clean economy," or "the sector of the economy that produces goods and services with an environmental benefit," including waste management, organic farming, and public transit, as well as the newer cleantech segments like solar and wind. The report found that from 2003-2010, the clean economy overall expanded "at an annual rate of 3.4 percent," which "somewhat lagged behind in the national economy, which grew by 4.2 percent." The report added that newer "cleantech" segments of the clean economy "added jobs at a torrid pace, albeit from small bases." [Brookings Institution, 7/13/11]

Brookings: Clean Energy Grew At An Average Rate Of 11.1 Percent. Brookings researcher Kenan Fikri explained via email that of the 39 clean economy segments in the report, eight would qualify as "clean energy": biofuels, geothermal, renewable energy services, solar photovoltaic, solar thermal, waste-to-energy, wave/ocean power, and wind. Fikri added that jobs in that clean energy category "have grown at an average annual rate of 11.1 percent." A slightly broader grouping of 13 "cleantech" segments (adding smart grid, battery technologies, carbon storage and others) grew 8.3 percent annually, "more than twice as fast as the rest of the economy measured the same way," according to Brookings. [Email to Media Matters, 9/29/11]

Brookings Report: "Four Of The Five Fastest-Growing Segments ... Were In Renewable Energy." From the report:

Which segments grew fastest? Again, the youngest did. The 13 segments in which the bulk of establishments date to later than 1996 grew by 8.3 percent annually from 2003 to 2010--a figure that easily outstripped the 3.2 percent growth of older segments as well as the 4.2 rate for the national economy over the same period.

Along these lines, four of the five fastest-growing segments during this seven-year period were in renewable energy. Solar thermal grew at a torrid pace, expanding by 18.4 percent annually over the seven years and adding 3,700 jobs. The wind power industry added 15,000 jobs, growing 14.9 percent per year. Solar PV added 12,286 jobs with 10.7 percent average annual growth. Moreover, biofuels, another renewable segment, added 9,300 jobs with 8.9 percent growth each year over the period.

The report provides a list of the 39 clean economy segments from greatest to lowest job growth. The list is topped by clean energy industries:

Brookings Institution chart

[Brookings Institution, 7/13/11]

Several News Outlets Have Misrepresented Brookings' Data

Weekly Standard Falsely Claimed Clean Tech Jobs Declined In Silicon Valley. In a cover story on Solyndra, the Weekly Standard said that "There are actually fewer 'clean tech' jobs in Silicon Valley today than 10 years ago, according to a recent Brookings Institution study." In fact, Brookings said "clean technology jobs in the area "increased from 2,705 to 6,638" and "grew at an annual rate of 11.9 percent." [Media Matters, 9/26/11]

New York Times Also Misrepresented Brookings Data On South Bay. A New York Times/Bay Citizen article claimed Brookings found "clean-technology jobs accounted for just 2 percent of employment nationwide and only slightly more -- 2.2 percent -- in Silicon Valley. Rather than adding jobs, the study found, the sector actually lost 492 positions from 2003 to 2010 in the South Bay." The article missed Brookings' distinction between "cleantech" and the broader "clean economy." [Media Matters, 9/8/11]

New York Post Claimed The "Environmental Sector" In California "Has Actually Lost Jobs." A New York Post editorial citied the New York Times article to claim: "In California, for example, the environmental sector has actually lost jobs, not gained them." In fact, Brookings found California's clean economy gained almost 80,000 jobs since 2003 -- a 4.2% annual increase. [Media Matters, 9/6/11]

Studies Show Investments In Clean Energy Produce Better Results Than Other Sectors

UMass Study: Clean Energy Investments Generate "3.2 Times The Number Of Jobs" As Investments In The Fossil Fuel Sectors. From a June 2009 University of Massachusetts-Amherst study:

[T]he total number of jobs--direct, indirect, and induced--that we estimate would be created from spending $1 million in a combination of six clean energy investment areas--three energy efficiency investment areas (building retrofits, public transportation and freight rail, and smart grid electrical transmission systems) and three renewable energy areas (solar power, wind power, and biomass fuels).

This combination of clean-energy investments will generate about 16.7 jobs per $1 million in spending. As Figure 1 also shows, $1 million in spending within the fossil fuel industry, divided according to the actual proportions of spending in these sectors as of 2007 will generate 5.3 jobs in total.

Spending a given amount of money on a clean-energy investment agenda generates approximately 3.2 times the number of jobs within the United States as does spending the same amount of money within the fossil fuel sectors.

PERI chart

Pew: "Investments In Clean Technology Have Fared Far Better In The Past Year Than Venture Capital Overall." A 2009 study by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that between 1998-2007 clean energy jobs "grew at a faster rate than overall jobs." The report also said "investments in clean technology have fared far better in the past year than venture capital overall":

Research by The Pew Charitable Trusts shows that despite a lack of sustained policy attention and investment, the emerging clean energy economy has grown considerably--extending to all 50 states, engaging a wide variety of workers and generating new industries. Between 1998 and 2007, its jobs grew at a faster rate than overall jobs. Like all other sectors, the clean energy economy has been hit by the recession, but investments in clean technology have fared far better in the past year than venture capital overall. Looking forward, the clean energy economy has tremendous potential for growth, as investments continue to flow from both the government and private sector and federal and state policy makers increasingly push for reforms that will both spur economic renewal and sustain the environment. [Pew Charitable Trusts, 6/10/09]

Posted In
Environment & Science, Energy
Time Magazine
Michael Scherer
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.