21st Century Innovations in Energy: An Equity Framework

Tuesday, October 11, 2016
21st Century Innovations in Energy: An Equity Framework

Report Overview

The National Urban League (NUL), through its Washington Bureau, submits this report focusing on the economic opportunities of the American energy industry and hereby issues the National Urban League Plan for Working with Private and Public Partners (NUL Energy Plan). At the onset it is important to point out this report is not intended to serve as an environmental position paper on the various types of energy. NUL will continue working with its diverse partners on climate change and environmental justice issues. However, this report has a very specific scope. It is an economic and inclusion report. It is intended to 1) provide overviews of the domestic electricity, solar, and oil and natural gas industries; 2) present current employment numbers in each sector; and 3) highlight economic and employment opportunities in each sector. The report concludes by launching NUL’s Energy Plan. The NUL Energy Plan provides a framework for building a dialogue and partnerships with the various aspects of the energy industry on issues important to the NUL, its mission, and the constituents it serves.

Engaging at this important moment in the energy sector and in the 2016 State of Black America makes sense for several reasons. First, NUL’s mission calls it to engage. The mission of the National Urban League Movement is to enable African Americans and other underserved urban residents to secure economic self-reliance, parity, power and civil rights. The energy industry, with all of its sectors, is a conduit to achieving this mission. Second, with proper education, engagement and advocacy, NUL can play a unique role in ensuring that the future of the industry is more diverse both in its workforce as well as its downstream ecosystem. This paper is intended to serve as the starting place for an action plan around creating more equitable policies in how energy is used and greater participation in how our community can help shape those policies.

(Click here to read the full report, 21st Century Innovations in Energy: An Equity Framework, by Donald Cravins, Jr., SVP for Policy, National Urban League)

Overview of the American Energy Sector and Workforce

The United States enters a new era in domestic energy abundance characterized by rising use of renewable energy as well as an increased oil and natural gas production. Today America is the world’s leader in oil, natural gas and refined product production. Oil and natural gas supplies more than 60% of the energy Americans use every day. This nation's electric power grid is the largest interconnected machine on Earth. It consists of more than 9,200 electric generating units with more than 1,000,000 megawatts of generating capacity connected to more than 300,000 miles of transmission lines. As a country increasingly dependent on technology, we have become more reliant upon energy in our everyday lives. Much of this nation's critical infrastructure (e.g. healthcare, telecommunications, defense, transportation, energy and water) is dependent on the power grid. Consequently, having a reliable, cost-efficient and secure energy supply has become particularly important in urban communities, not only for quality of life, but also because it is a competitive plus, a job creator, and can affect the overall economy of a region or locality. In order to meet these energy needs, as a country we have adopted an "all of the above" strategy, which reflects the fact that for the foreseeable future we will continue to be dependent in varying degrees on coal, natural gas, oil, nuclear, and renewables as our primary sources of energy. This mix however must continue to evolve by reflecting advances in technology and by getting cleaner every day.

In 2015, 36% of the energy consumed in the United States by all energy consuming sectors (transportation, industrial, residential and commercial, and electric power) was from oil; 29% came from natural gas; 16% from coal; 9% from nuclear; 4.9% from bio mass; 2.5% from hydro; and 2.7% from solar, geothermal and wind. Domestic energy production met approximately 91% of this country's energy demand. Simultaneously as our dependence on energy is growing, the energy industry, the electricity sector in particular, has begun to undergo significant changes as a result of the introduction of new technologies and sources of power. We are witnessing a convergence of energy, telecommunications and transportation technologies and industries. These changes will only accelerate and if not managed properly will result in energy "Haves" and "Have Nots."

The convergence of these sectors is an opportunity for us to grab hold of and participate both as consumers and as part of the labor force it is creating. Due to energy’s ubiquitous role in our daily lives and broader economy, we should be more aware and active in its importance to African American and urban communities. Think for a minute about the home appliances and electronics that use gas or electricity, or about the fuel that gives Americans mobility to travel or receive goods and services, not to mention the jobs that are associated with all aspects of this industry. And take another minute to consider if you know anyone who has trouble deciding whether to pay an energy bill or for some other important need like food or medication. Balancing the opportunity and cost is challenging. But we don’t run from challenges, we meet them head on.

There is a great deal at stake. Government and industry data vary in determining exactly how to measure the amount of energy industry jobs, but it is safe to say that millions of people are employed either directly or indirectly by the broader industry. For example, according to one report, the three segments of the U.S. oil and gas industry and the petrochemical industry together employed a total of 1.4 million people in 2015. The electricity sector reports approximately one million direct and indirect jobs in the energy infrastructure transmission, storage and distribution sectors. The solar industry claims over 200,000 employees. The takeaway here is that the energy sector is a people intensive industry with opportunities to explore across the nation and at all levels.

Looking forward, these industries are projected to have nearly 1.9 million job opportunities available through 2035 in all regions of the country. Part of these opportunities comes from the fact that the industry is "graying" and many current industry employees are eligible for retirement. With the right emphasis, training, and preparation, the prospects for growth in employment among African Americans and Latinos in the energy industry are good. In the next 7 to 10 years, electric and natural gas utilities will see up to one half of their personnel retire. Addressing this skills gap presents an historic opportunity to create a workforce that reflects the increasing diversity of our nation. Further, as America continues to transition to cleaner and renewable energy, the employment and economic opportunities for African Americans and other minorities could be immense.

All of this growth also presents opportunities for minority business enterprises seeking joint ventures and for individuals seeking to form new enterprises. According to Advanced Energy Economy, the U.S. advanced energy market generated $200 billion in revenues in 2015, more than the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry and almost as much as consumer electronics. Last year, revenues grew 75% in the wind segment and 21% in the solar market, while revenues related to building efficiency grew 11% and those in energy storage multiplied more than 10 times. The opportunities are compelling.

Click here to read the full report, 21st Century Innovations in Energy: An Equity Framework, by Donald Cravins, Jr., SVP for Policy, National Urban League.

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