by Chris de Morsella, Green Economy Post Chris is the co-editor of The Green Executive Recruiter Directory. Follow Chris on Twitter @greeneconpost

The renewable energy and energy storage sectors are both experiencing rapid growth in California. The state is leads the nation in solar jobs; is the biggest geothermal producing region in the world; the third biggest state for wind energy in the U.S. and is a leading center for advanced biofuels as well. The state also has a big presence in many of the energy storage startups. California had 17,505 direct and indirect renewable energy Jobs in 2009. The state has 675 renewable energy companies. California currently generates slightly more than 10% of its utility-scale electricity from wind, solar, and geothermal resources.

California is a global hub for renewable energy and energy storage research and development, with a strong innovation to commercialization track record and an attractive environment for start-ups. Its cleantech startups benefit from existing financial, cultural, government, and other intangible infrastructure that already exists for the states big high tech sectors.

Solar Power Jobs

California is home to about 30% of all solar companies in the U.S. giving it a commanding presence in the Solar Power sector. The state employs an estimated 36,000 people in solar jobs and has over 1,000 solar firms. It is the largest market for solar photovoltaic (PV) applications in the nation, with over 212 MW of grid-tied PV installed in 2009. California also leads the country for cumulative installed solar capacity; as of 2010 the state had 47% of the nation’s capacity with 971 MW of installed capacity in the state.

More than ten new large scale solar power projects to be built in the dry sunny areas in southern California and that have a combined capacity of more than 4GW have made it through the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) approval process and many more big projects are in the pipeline.

Building on its record setting pace of solar PV installation for 2009 California lead the nation in terms of added solar PV capacity in 2010 with an additional 258.9 MW of capacity added. The residential and commercial rooftop market for solar PV is growing very fast in California and is creating tens of thousands of jobs throughout the value chain.

Almost half of California’s solar market is comprised of residential installations, with slightly less than 40% for non-residential commercial installations and the remaining 15% or so taken up by large utility scale installations. This makes the overall market robust and more able to withstand ups and downs in any single market segment.

California’s booming solar market is also resulting in new solar fabrication plants being built in the state, such as a new Soitec factory to be built in the San Diego area. At full capacity, Soitec’s San Diego operations facility will generate up to 450 direct jobs and more than 1,000 indirect jobs.

The kinds of jobs that will be created in the growing solar power sector are primarily in manufacturing, wholesale trade and installation.

These employment opportunities include a wide variety of existing professions and trades including: solar water or pool heating installers or technicians; HVAC technicians with specific skills in solar installations; plumbers with specific skills in solar installations; production workers in various types of fabrication and assembly jobs; marketing; legal; accounting; finance; and front-line supervisors and managers. This opens up a big opportunity for many who wish to change careers and have existing skills that can be applied in the solar sector.

Interior Department OKs 550 Megawatt Solar Project in California
The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) approved on August 10 the Desert Sunlight Solar Farm, a 550-megawatt (MW) solar power project to be built in the California desert east of Palm Springs. Desert Sunlight, the largest solar photovoltaic (PV) facility approved for U.S. public land, will generate enough energy to power more than 165,000 homes. It is located on approximately 4,100 acres. The facility will create more than 630 jobs at peak construction. In June, DOE granted Desert Sunlight project operators a conditional commitment of a $1.88 billion loan guarantee.

Wind Energy Jobs

California was one of the first states to develop utility-scale wind farms, and until 2000 had more wind energy installed than the rest of the country combined. Today, California ranks third nationally in terms of overall wind installation, behind Texas and Iowa.

By 2009 wind provided 3.3% of the states electricity supply. The state is also home to some important wind manufacturing industry, including national wind turbine leader GE Energy. In addition least 15 different facilities around the state are currently involved in manufacturing for the wind industry. Overall there currently are somewhere between 4,000 and 5,000 direct and indirect wind energy jobs in the state.

California’s three largest wind generation regions, the San Francisco Bay Area, the Central Valley and Southern California’s Inland Empire. Very few wind farms in California have full-time technical staff to maintain turbines. A majority of employers interviewed outsource this function, often to firms based outside California.

The Economic and Workforce Development California Community Colleges estimates that California’s wind industry currently requires approximately 1000 technicians. More than 13,000 of California’s wind turbines, or 95 percent of all of California’s wind generating capacity and output, are located in three primary regions: Altamont Pass (east of San Francisco), Tehachapi (south east of Bakersfield) and San Gorgonio (near Palm Springs, east of Los Angeles). In 1995, these areas produced 30 percent of the entire world’s wind-generated electricity; there position has slipped since then as other regions have increased their own capacity.

Geothermal Jobs

California leads the country and the world in terms of existing installed geothermal capacity; it has 2,565.5 MW of installed geothermal capacity, and geothermal energy supplies 5% of the state’s electric power. California also has another 35 geothermal projects in development that will add an additional 1,997.7 MW of new capacity. Currently, it is in second place to neighboring Nevada for new geothermal projects under development.

The Geothermal Energy Association (GEA) estimates that new and existing geothermal projects will result in 3,000 or more jobs added in the coming year, mostly in California and Nevada.

Biofuel Jobs

San Diego is becoming a leading center for the nascent algal biofuels industry also taking advantage of its proximity to the Imperial Valley. The Imperial Valley, with its hot climate, warm nights, abundant sunshine, water resources (does not need to be fresh water) is considered by many along with nearby areas of Arizona as one of the world’s very best regions with a high potential for large scale algal biofuel production. In San Diego’s biotech research center, that has sprung up clustered around the University of California at San Diego and the Salk Institute there are now over 40 companies working on biofuels from algae. These include Sapphire Energy and Synthetic Genomics, which have both received over $100 billion from private equity investors to expand their research and production of algal fuels.

In addition California has 30 biomass plants. A typical 30 MW biopower plant employs about 120 workers (in plant and outside).

In addition to scientists, and researchers the biofuels industry, will need to find people with the following skills and education: alternative energy engineers, industrial engineers, chemical engineers, engineering managers, biofuels technicians, alternative fuel vehicle technicians, bus and truck mechanics, fuel cell technicians, industrial production managers, electronic engineering technicians, machinists, mechanical engineers, maintenance and repair workers, general mechanical engineering technicians, plant and systems operators.

The counties with the most job listings for biofuels, which include: biofuel, biomass, cellulose biofuels, algal biofuel, biodiesel and ethanol, are: San Diego, Alameda, Contra Costa, San Mateo, Los Angeles and Anaheim.

Hydro Power Jobs

The U.S. hydro power industry currently employs up to 300,000 workers, ranging from project development to manufacturing to facilities operations and maintenance. Under the current weak federal renewable energy standard already in place, it is estimated that jobs will increase to 480,000 by 2025
California is one of the nation’s top-ten hydropower generating states and Hydropower accounts for more than 20% of all the electricity generation in the state.

Energy Storage Jobs

The state’s renowned startup culture has helped California’s energy storage startups find critical early stage support and Venture funding and has positioned some of them to gain important market share in this growing segment of the overall energy economy.

In addition to advanced batteries, fuel cells and such California is also innovating in traditional pumped energy storage, which represents the vast majority of the world’s existing energy storage capacity. The proposed $1.4 billion Eagle Mountain Pumped Storage Project located about 65 miles west of Palm Springs will use a closed loop system of water pumped between two existing depleted brownfield mine pits, in this manner minimizing the environmental imapct of the project. The project would be paired with the growing wind and solar energy resources in the area, acting as a buffer for them and would provide about 30 direct jobs.

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