NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


March 1, 2010

"Green jobs" have become a central underpinning of the Obama Administration's rationale to promote clean energy.   Consequently, the President has taken nearly $4 billion in funding  from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to build the smart grid, with much of this to be spent installing close to 20 million digital "smart meters" over the next five years, says Sunil Sharan, a director of the Smart Grid Initiative at GE from 2008 to 2009. 

Nearly 40 million smart meters have been deployed worldwide, mostly in Europe.   Jobs created in this industry can be broadly classified into four categories: installation, manufacturing, research and development, and IT services, says Sharan. 

How many installation jobs will be created? 

  • It typically takes a team of two certified electricians half an hour to replace the old, spinning meter.
  • In one day, two people can install about 15 new meters, or about 5,000 in a year.
  • Were a million smart meters to be installed in a year, 400 installation jobs would be created.
  • It follows that the planned U.S. deployment of 20 million smart meters over five years, or 4 million per year, should create 1,600 installation jobs.
  • Unless more meters are added to the annual deployment schedule, this workforce of 1,600 should cover installation needs for the next five years. 

How many other jobs will be created? 

  • Although a surge of new digital meters will be produced, the manufacturing process is highly automated.
  • And with much of it accomplished overseas, net creation in domestic manufacturing jobs is expected to be only in the hundreds.
  • In R&D and IT services, high-paying white-collar jobs are on the horizon, but as with manufacturing, the number of jobs created is forecast to be in the hundreds or low thousands. 

Now let's consider job losses:  In five years, 20 million manually read meters are expected to disappear, taking with them some 28,000 meter-reading jobs, says Sharan. 

Instead of creating jobs, smart metering will probably result in net job destruction.  This should not be surprising because the main method of making the electrical grid "smart" is by automating its functions.  Automation by definition obviates the need for people, says Sharan. 

Source: Sunil Sharan, "The green jobs myth," Washington Post, February 26, 2010. 

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