At least in terms of the job market, 2021 was a good year for renewable energy. A report released earlier this week by the Department of Energy found that nearly every part of the renewable energy sector added jobs last year. And despite a rise in fossil fuel production, the number of oil and gas-related jobs actually declined — with some industry workforces shrinking by as much as 12 percent. 

Overall, jobs in the energy sector grew by about 4 percent, or about 300,000 jobs. But job gains in renewable energy markets were so strong that they effectively masked losses from several fossil fuel industries; the solar industry added tens of thousands of workers while fossil fuel industries specializing in petroleum and coal hemorrhaged nearly 40,000 workers.

A bar graphing showing changes in employment for different parts of the energy sector. Hybrid vehicles and all-electric vehicles each added over 20,000 new jobs while, petroleum lost over 30,000 jobs, and coal almost 10,000 jobs.
Grist / Chad Small

Last year’s uptick in renewable energy job growth was dominated by the electric vehicle and hybrid vehicle markets; electric vehicle manufacturers saw their workforces swell by over 26 percent in 2021. Hybrid vehicle companies followed closely behind, with job increases at about 20 percent. 

The  “green transportation” boom has had meaningful changes for job markets in some auto industry-heavy states where jobs have been drying up over time. In Michigan, for example, where 65 percent of all energy technology jobs are in the motor vehicle industry, Governor Gretchen Whitmer says she hopes the boom in electric and hybrid vehicle investments could advance both the state’s economic and emissions goals. 

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“Michigan’s economy is on the move and thanks to our hardworking people and innovative businesses, we are now a top three state for clean energy vehicle job growth,” said Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. 

But some experts say the Department of Energy’s job 2021 numbers should be taken with a grain of salt. Much of the U.S. energy sector is still recovering from the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, only the motor vehicle industry has rebounded to pre-pandemic levels of employment. And when it comes to producing electricity, only the wind industry is outpacing its 2019 numbers.

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It’s also possible that the trend of renewable energy job growth and fossil fuel job decline will not persist into 2022. With the war in Ukraine affecting global fuel markets and driving up gas prices, President Biden has pushed for more domestic fossil fuel production. That call could mean more fossil fuel jobs are on the way. 

“You’ll see an increase in employment that corresponds with the increase in supply,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. 

Regardless, several members of Congress have vowed to sustain state-level support for the green energy jobs and the renewables industry.

“It’s promising to see such impressive growth in the energy sector in 2021,” said New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen. “I’ll keep working on bipartisan solutions that enhance clean energy and energy efficiency initiatives to build a more sustainable, resilient future.”