Clean Energy Industry, Already 1 Million Strong, Poised to Grow Further Under Carbon Plan

Last week, President Obama pledged to reduce carbon emissions from existing power plants. This breakthrough is an important step in cleaning up the nation’s power sector, curbing carbon emissions and their associated negative impacts, and, as NRDC’s report release today—and thousands of companies around the country illustrate—can be achieved with substantial benefits to the economy.

How substantial? Analyzing an NRDC-developed plan that reduces carbon emissions 26 percent from 2005 levels by 2020, ICF International calculated benefits between $25 billion and $60 billion, or roughly 6 to 15 times the costs of compliance. Synapse Energy Economics, Inc’s analysis finds an economy-wide net jobs increase of 210,000 by 2020. These figures account for the jobs that may be lost in more fossil fuel-intensive industries, and, while these job gains represent a broad set of industries, will see the most growth in the energy efficiency space.

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The renewable energy and energy efficiency industries, already employing 1 million Americans across the United States, are poised to grow even further.

Energy-Efficient Economy

Already supporting more than 400,000 workers, the energy efficiency economy is made up of private industry and government agencies, can be found across red states and blue states, big cities and small towns. It employs workers retrofitting or operating buildings, writing software, manufacturing technologies and appliances, and is helping millions of Americans use energy more efficiently and save money on their energy bills.

Next Step Living

Geoff Chapin, whose 5-year-old company has grown to employ almost 600 workers, is one member of the energy efficiency economy. In 2008, with a vision for improving our nation’s housing stock, and economic prospects, he founded Massachusetts-based Next Step Living. Since the company’s birth, it has brought real savings to tens of thousands of homeowners in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Connecticut, through a retrofit process that makes it easy for customers to improve the comfort of their homes while paying less for energy.

The process starts with an in-home energy assessment, which pinpoints a structure's inefficiencies. Then, Next Step Living advisors develop a customized plan, including a rigorous search for rebates and incentives that can help pay for many energy-saving measures. In Massachusetts, for example, Next Step Living brings residents all the benefits of the Mass Save Home Energy Services Program that cover the entire cost of a home audit and immediate improvements like light-bulb upgrades, as well as 75 percent of new insulation up to $2,000.

Once the firm and client settle on a course of action, the company's technicians and installers go to work, helping customers realize instant savings from quick fixes such as aerators and dimmable lighting to more involved solutions like air sealing and insulation improvements, solar panel installation, heating and cooling upgrades, and window replacements. Growing to employ about 600 workers in just 5 years, and assessing more than 3,000 homes every month, the firm illustrates the tremendous economic opportunity that can be achieved through investments in energy efficiency and renewables. 

Johnson Controls

In 1883, when Warren Johnson invented the thermostat, few could have predicted that it would serve as the foundation of a company that would grow to Johnson Controls, Inc, a 170,000-employee company driving energy savings at a global scale. Through their Building Efficiency business, Johnson Controls reaches more than one million customers, from almost 700 offices in more than 150 countries. Since 2000, they have achieved more than 19 million metric tons of carbon reduction through guaranteed energy savings projects, saving their customers $7.5 billion through more efficient equipment, heating, cooling, refrigeration, and other technologies.

One savings-generating project that Johnson Controls completed was the construction of Ave Maria University in Ave Maria, Florida. By converging information technology, facility operations, and other systems onto one internet protocol system, Johnson Controls helped Ave Maria save approximately $1.5 million in infrastructure costs from unnecessary cabling that had been part of the original design. The school projects annual savings of $950,000 from reduced systems operations, as well as utility costs. With a strong education bottom line, the university’s savings has significant impact on the quality of experience it can provide to its 500 students.


Ohio-based Brewer-Garrett is another company driving job growth by helping local schools, manufacturing facilities— including a cheese factory— and commercial buildings manage their energy use. “Money is tight in Ohio,” says Energy Service Sales Consultant Dan Mitchell.  “[Clients are wondering]” where do you save money?  How do you make improvements?”

In Brewer-Garrett’s case, through energy efficiency performance contracting. Through a partnership—“marriage, really,” says Mitchell, Brewer-Garrett guarantees that a client aiming to increase a building’s energy efficiency will see significant enough savings to make money off of their initial investment, sometimes within as little as two years.

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Brewer-Garrett partnered with Cleveland State to develop its LEED certified student center, and to reduce the school's energy consumption 20%, saving $62.9 million, by 2021. Credit: Brewer-Garrett.

Brewer-Garrett, employing analysts, engineers, and contractors, offers not only audits and consulting, but also the engineering expertise to see a project through in entirety. “A turnkey solution,” says Mitchell, and one that helps clients unlock energy savings to reduce local pollution and energy bills. The company has completed projects that cumulatively save 96 million kilowatt-hours annually, the equivalent to taking nearly 13,000 cars off of the road. Brewer-Garrett employs a workforce of 160, and is on the lookout for more employees.

Next Step Living, Johnson Controls, and Brewer-Garrett individually represent energy entrepreneurs envisioning and achieving energy-efficient business practices, and the substantial workforces that accompany them. Yet they are only the tip of the iceberg. With a nationwide carbon policy, and the accompanying steadfast focus on innovation and increasing energy productivity, companies like these will continue to grow, adding hundreds of thousands of American workers to their already strong ranks.