The US clean energy industry has haemorrhaged over 400,000 jobs since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, seeing the first year-on-year decline in its numbers and finishing 2020 with its smallest workforce since 2015, according to new figures from by BW Research Partnership.

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The calculations, carried out for renewables advocacy groups Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), E4TheFuture and the American Council on Renewable Energy (Acore) using latest federal unemployment filings, revealed that while almost 17,000 positions had been added in December by the sector, more than 429,000 – 12% of the sector’s pre-Covid-19 workforce – remained unemployed.

Ten months after the coronavirus outbreak, 70% of jobs lost in the clean-energy sector have yet to be recovered, the research found, forecasting it would take “about two and half years” to return to levels of employment reached before the pandemic and a further year to expand to numbers originally projected for 2020.

Acore CEO Gregory Wetstone said December’s clean energy employment numbers could “only be described as anaemic”, with less than 2,800 renewable energy jobs recovered, and pointed to a needed shift in US energy policy that would “move past the endless cycle of temporary stop-gap measures and finally enact the kind of comprehensive, long-term, scientifically-driven climate policy that puts millions to work building the clean energy future Americans want and deserve”.

Bob Keefe, executive director of E2, said the clean-energy employment numbers highlighted the need for the President-elect Joe Biden’s administration to take federal action “to revitalise our economy and our environment with a clean energy focused recovery”, adding: “Washington must go big, go fast and go now.”

“The need to act is clear. We just lived through the costliest year ever for climate disasters. And facing the largest economic downturn since 2009, we know we’ve only scratched the surface when it comes to jobs and other economic benefits that come with clean energy.”

BW Research Partnership VP Phil Jordan stated: “Clean energy had been one of the nation's fastest growing sectors over the past five years, prior to the Covid-19 pandemic. In addition to clawing back the jobs we lost in 2020, we need to help the sector return to growth mode and get back to creating economic opportunities for more Americans in 2021.”

Almost 40 states are still suffering double-digit unemployment in the sector, according to the research, with 12 experiencing jobless levels of 15% or higher. Georgia continues to top the lost-job tables with over 30% of its clean energy workforce still out of work, followed by Kentucky at 27%.

Hawaii, meanwhile, saw the sector’s highest growth rate at 1.2%, while California again saw the biggest total increase in jobs with 3,300 positions added, a rise of 0.7%. Florida, Illinois, New York, North Carolina, and Texas all added more than 600 jobs, while 15 states added fewer than 100 each.

The pandemic-fueled job crisis continues to “disproportionately” impact women and Black and Hispanic workers, said Jordan, noting these demographics had seen higher overall job loss figures despite total clean energy employment growing slightly, at a rate of 0.6%, in the last month of the year.

Global renewable energy industries supported a record 11.5 million jobs in 2019, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency, which caveated the figures with a need for government to “supercharge” the energy transition to keep growth on track amid Covid-19.