NC Sustainable Energy Association


NCSEA Announces 2012 NC Clean Energy Industries Census

October 10, 2012 10:00 PM | Posted By: Rich Crowley, Director of Market Research & Spatial Analysis & Julie Robinson, Director of Government Affairs

North Carolina’s Clean Energy Sector Continues to Grow: Over 15,200 FTE Jobs, $3.7 Billion in Revenue

“At a crossroad,” despite on-going jobs and revenue growth, clean energy business leaders cite uncertainty and other barriers that are limiting further growth.

RALEIGH, N.C. – North Carolina’s economy continues to recover from the recession with our unemployment rate above the national rate. However, the good news is that several sectors, including clean energy, are hiring employees, expanding their businesses, and pumping millions into local economies in every region of our state.  These and other important economic findings are detailed in the 2012 North Carolina Clean Energy Industries Census, which was released today as part of the NC Sustainable Energy Association's annual Making Energy Work Conference at the Charlotte Convention Center.  Retaining and creating jobs and fostering new economic development opportunities must continue to be a top priority for all North Carolinians, especially businesses and policymakers – and the clean energy sector holds great promise and opportunities if we maintain a balance of pro-business policies and regulations.

Click here to download the 2012 NC Clean Energy Industries Census.

Since the passage of the Southeast’s first renewable energy and energy efficiency law in 2007 (and 25th in the nation), North Carolina’s clean energy sectors – broadly categorized as renewable energy and energy efficiency – have burst onto the scene with companies, jobs and projects from the mountains to the coast.

The annual Census, which surveyed over 1,100 North Carolina clean energy companies mid-summer through early September, finds the clean energy sector is a growing economic force in North Carolina that conservatively contributes over $3.7 billion in revenue and more than 15,200 full-time equivalent jobs directly from activities in clean energy. For infrastructure, the state is home to over 38,000 Energy Star homes, 2,100 energy efficient commercial buildings, and more than 3,000 planned or installed renewable energy systems. 

Yet, despite the clean energy industries’ recent growth in North Carolina, including more than 200 companies serving national and international markets, Census participants feel that the industry in North Carolina is now at a crossroad.  According to business leaders, political polarization, policy and market uncertainty, and limited access to finance all pose substantial threats to the continued growth of North Carolina’s clean energy economy.

Now in its fifth year of continuous improvements and deepening methodology, the North Carolina Clean Energy Industries Census looks at businesses directly involved in the clean energy sector, with the intent of documenting on-going employment trends and industry dynamics across key business activities and focuses.  (Note: The clean energy sectors included in the Census are renewable energy, energy efficiency, high performance building, smart grid, and electric vehicles.)  The Census, which is conducted by the NC Sustainable Energy Association (NCSEA), and the resulting annual publication have become a model for states looking to evaluate their own clean energy industries. Furthermore, over the years, the Census has evolved with North Carolina’s clean energy industry to include new sectors like our state’s internationally recognized smart grid industry and the rapidly expanding electric vehicles industry. 

The 2012 Census shows that employment in the North Carolina clean energy sector grew for the fifth consecutive year, although at a slower pace than in past years that saw double-digit growth. There are over 1,100 clean energy firms employing more than 15,200 (full-time equivalent) employees across 86 North Carolina counties. Additional highlights include:

  • North Carolina’s clean energy industries reported growth for thefifth consecutive year – an estimated 3% growth in the past year.
  • In comparison to the projected economic forecast for North Carolina’s economy, UNC-Charlotte economist John Connaughton expects an inflation-adjusted growth rate of 1.5 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012 and throughout 2013. This matches the growth rate for 2011, but lower than the 3.2 percent growth recorded in 2010.
  • North Carolina’s clean energy industry conservatively generates over $3.7 billion in revenue directly from clean energy activities.
  • Over 200 North Carolina clean energy companies are already serving the national and international markets.
  • Research and development as well as manufacturing positions within the clean energy industry also continue to be substantial – totaling 7,700 full-time equivalent jobs in this year’s Census.

“Despite our state’s on-going high unemployment rate and tough economic times, North Carolina’s clean energy industry continues to grow and add new jobs and investments in every region,” said Ivan Urlaub, NCSEA’s Executive Director. “North Carolina is distinctly positioned as a clean energy leader in the Southeast, but maintaining this leadership role – and becoming a national and global leader – will require additional policy and market advancements; otherwise, we’ll be left behind as other US states step up and compete for the lead.”

Energy Efficiency Sector Leads Clean Energy Industry

Jobs with a focus on energy efficiency, frequently described as the “least-cost” energy resource by groups like the American Council for an Energy Efficiency Economy, make up a majority of North Carolina’s clean energy sector employment at over 7,200 full-time equivalent positions statewide.  In addition to successful utility energy efficiency program like Duke Energy’s Save-A-Watt initiative, North Carolina energy efficient homebuilders are successfully building the next generation of energy efficient homes using local labor and businesses. 

North Carolina is, as far as the rest of the country goes, a leader or progressive state from the standpoint of producing green and Energy Star homes,” said one responding homebuilder in this year’s Census.  “There’s a lot of acknowledgement of that in the national professional association for home builders.” Complementing the strong energy efficiency sector (i.e. business focus) are the solar, smart grid and biomass sectors, which contribute over 1,000 full-time equivalent jobs each, with additional major employment from the wind, geothermal, and energy storage sectors.

Finally, like most American businesses, many clean energy companies, especially the smaller ones that make up the bulk of the industry, face difficulty accessing finance.  For some businesses, in particular clean energy system installers, legal barriers inhibit traditional market mechanisms such as bilateral contracts for the direct sale of electricity to a consumer.  Recent legislative attempts to develop limited free market competition for electricity have been unsuccessful in North Carolina.  In the absence of a true free market, companies verify that policy mechanisms will remain essential to ensure there is competition in the regulated energy market and to continue to grow the clean energy industries in North Carolina.


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About the NC Sustainable Energy Association:

Founded in 1978, the NC Sustainable Energy Association (NCSEA) is a 501(c)3 non-profit membership organization of individuals, businesses, government and non-profits working to ensure a sustainable future by promoting renewable energy and energy efficiency in North Carolina through education, public policy and economic development.

NCSEA has been the “go-to” leader in shaping North Carolina's commitment to renewable energy, energy efficiency, high performance building, smart grid and electric vehicle jobs and economic opportunities in communities all across our state. Learn more at