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Home / Articles / Renewable energy jobs grew in 2020 while fossil fuel jobs dropped

The pandemic has hit the energy industry particularly hard. Energy industry employment shrank by 10% from 8.3 million to 7.5 million jobs, according to the Department of Energy (DOE). The decline in energy jobs outpaced nationwide employment, which fell 6% between December 2019 and the end of 2020.

The steepest drops in jobs were in oil, gas, and coal. Gains in hybrid and electric car manufacturing, wind generation, and battery storage technology continued despite industry-wide losses.

Specific energy industry sectors are clustered in a couple of states, making the impact of the pandemic starker in certain parts of the nation.

How big is the energy industry?

Energy jobs accounted for 5% of American employment at the end of 2020. That includes the traditional energy sectors of fuels, electric power generation, and distribution and storage, as well as energy efficiency and motor vehicle production.

Out of all energy sectors, motor vehicles and energy efficiency employ the most workers.

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Motor vehicle manufacturing employed 2.3 million Americans in 2020, or 30.9% of all energy jobs. Energy efficiency employed 2.1 million people or 28% of energy jobs. That includes workers manufacturing Energy Star-certified appliances, advanced construction and insulation materials, and other products reducing electricity usage. Distribution and storage accounted for 1.3 million jobs or 17.6% of energy jobs. Another 937,700 Americans worked in fuels and 833,600 in electricity generation.

Fossil fuels had the sharpest job losses in 2020, while renewable energy jobs grew.

Employment in oil and gas fuel production faced the steepest drops, falling 21% from 2019. Coal fuel production jobs declined by more than 200,000 or 20%, while those in coal energy generation dropped by 8,308 workers or 10%. Solar electric generation employment decreased by 28,718 or 8%.

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Low-emission technologies reported job gains, but those additions didn’t make up for the losses in jobs from oil, coal, and natural gas.

The electric vehicle sector added 6,066 jobs or 7.8% Jobs for hybrid electric vehicles increased by 6,292 or 5.6% from 2019. Wind generation grew by 2,043 jobs or an increase of 2%.

Battery storage employment grew by 1% or 845 jobs.

Where are the energy jobs in the US? Depends on the type of energy.

Petroleum and natural gas extraction are most common in North Dakota, Wyoming, Alaska, Oklahoma, and Louisiana, with each state having more than 1.5% of its adult population working in that area. About 1.9% of North Dakotans 18 and older worked in petroleum fuels in 2020— the largest share of any state, with about 1,889 jobs per 100,000 residents. Wyoming followed at 1.7%. North Dakota also led the nation in national gas extraction jobs as a percent of the state's 18 and older population at 1.3%.

Solar is the largest renewable industry, employing 316,677 Americans in 2020. Six of the top ten states for solar electricity generation jobs came from the Western US. California led the nation with 369.6 solar jobs per 100,000 people or 0.37% of the state's population. Hawaii followed at 361.6 jobs per 100,000 people.

Wind generation employed 116,815 people in 2020, making it the second-largest renewable job market. North Dakotans were most likely to work in wind, with 297.8 jobs per 100,000 people or 0.3% of the state's population.

Wyoming and West Virginia reported the highest concentration of coal fuel jobs in 2020, with the sector employing 1.2% and 0.9% of their residents, respectively.

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Where does this data come from?

The DOE published the inaugural US Energy Employment Report (USEER) in 2016, contracting a research firm to survey businesses across sectors about their involvement in the energy industry. The data from the survey was mapped over figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to create a full energy jobs picture.

The Trump administration discontinued the report. From 2019 to 2020, the National Association of State Energy Officials and the Energy Future Initiative partnered to take up the work, using the same firm and methodology to maintain a continuous record of data.

The Biden administration resumed data collection in 2021 and is expected to publish the updated USEER data in Spring 2022.

Where to learn more

Dive into more data on energy, climate, and the environment in the US with the USAFacts State of the Earth feature.

See how temperature and rain or snowfall levels have changed in your area with the USAFacts Climate in the US feature.