Saving electricity employs more Floridians than alternative energy

The energy efficiency field makes up 36 percent of all energy-sector jobs, far more than solar or electric vehicles, a new report found.
The manufacturing and installing of energy efficient appliances has helped grow the number of jobs in Florida's advanced energy industry.
The manufacturing and installing of energy efficient appliances has helped grow the number of jobs in Florida's advanced energy industry. [ Highlands Today ]
Published Sept. 27, 2019

Saving energy is big business.

There are entire firms dedicated to figuring out ways to lower electricity bills. Others help by manufacturing efficient appliances, installing energy-saving windows or creating better building materials.

The technologies don’t often dazzle like the latest iPhone, but they have a profound impact on how much power people and businesses consume.

In fact, energy efficiency is the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. energy industry, according to a report from business group E2, or Environmental Entrepreneurs. More than 2.3 million people nationwide worked in the field in 2018, up 76,000 from the previous year.

In Florida, 118,400 people worked in energy efficiency in 2018, up 5 percent. Most were with businesses that employ fewer than 20 people. They did everything from designing sustainable buildings to repairing energy-efficient lighting systems.

RELATED STORY: Why we miss the Crystal River nuclear plant.

LumaStream founder and chairman Eric Higgs.
LumaStream founder and chairman Eric Higgs.

The job growth hasn’t surprised Eric Higgs, founder and chairman of LumaStream, a St. Petersburg technology company that specializes in low voltage lighting.

“We see a direct correlation between clean energy projects and jobs,” he said, “whether it be energy efficiency or other ways of saving clients’ money.”

A heavy reliance on air conditioning — and all the people who assemble and install the systems — helps boost Florida’s numbers. So does the steady stream of energy-efficient goods that flow through the state to Central and South America.

The state’s lack of wind power and sluggish embrace of solar makes efforts to save electricity all the more vital, said E2 executive director Bob Keefe.

“In Florida, it’s left to carry the bulk of the growth in the clean energy sector,” he said.

The report did not analyze wages, though a quick look at U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that many of these jobs pay more than the state average.

The number of jobs could grow as lighting and air conditioning technologies improve, and as designers come up with ways to make new construction even more efficient. Residential and commercial buildings in the United States account for 40 percent of energy consumption, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That’s a target-rich environment for companies that specialize in energy efficiency.

“If we can clean up these buildings, that saves power, saves money, cuts down on pollution and creates new jobs,” Keefe said.

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Government policies could play a big role in whether the industry keeps expanding, Keefe added. Earlier this month, the Trump administration rolled back regulations on the next stage of improved lighting efficiency standards and had threatened to do the same to programs that had dramatically improved the efficiency of appliances and electronics like refrigerators and clothes dryers.

“Policies matter,” he said, “and right now federal policies aren’t that great and state policies aren’t much better.”

Energy efficiency makes up about two-thirds of alternative energy jobs in each state, according to a separate analysis from trade group Advanced Energy Economy, whose members include Lockheed Martin, Siemens, Apple and Comcast. In Florida, it was 118,400 out of 174,100 jobs. The next-biggest category was advanced electricity generation, with 36,600 jobs related to solar, bioenergy, advanced natural gas, wind and nuclear power.

Gov. Ron DeSantis. [CHRIS URSO  |   Times]
Gov. Ron DeSantis. [CHRIS URSO | Times]

On the policy front, Advanced Energy Economy director Dylan Reed sees hope in how Gov. Ron DeSantis recently announced that the state would install fast-charging stations for electric cars at eight service plazas along the Florida Turnpike. The governor also wants more of the stations built near interstate off-ramps.

The benefits go beyond more jobs, Reed said.

“There’s a great opportunity for investments in solar, energy storage, electric vehicles and energy efficiency to lead to consumer savings,” he said. “That’s the part of the story that’s fun to tell.”

Florida’s 174,100 alternative energy jobs

118,400 — in energy efficiency, including 17 percent of all construction jobs and 36 percent of all energy sector jobs.

36,600 — in advanced power generation, including 11,500 in high-efficiency natural gas, 10,500 in solar, and 5,200 in bioenergy and combined heat and power.

9,400 — in advanced vehicles, including 4,500 in plug-in hybrid and battery electric vehicles.

5,500 — in advanced grid and energy storage, up from 4,700 in 2017.

4,200 — in advanced fuels like corn ethanol and biomass.

An electric charging station in St. Petersburg.
An electric charging station in St. Petersburg. [ CERRI, LARA | Tampa Bay Times ]

Top 5 counties: Miami-Dade (19,700 jobs); Palm Beach (16,800); Hillsborough (16,100); Broward (15,800); and Orange (14,300).

Sources: E2 and Advanced Energy Economy.