What do Minnesota workers in energy efficiency do?
Energy efficiency, the backbone of Minnesota’s clean energy workforce
According to the Clean Jobs Midwest Report 2021, there are over 55,000 jobs in Minnesota’s clean energy industry. Of these jobs, nearly 75 percent are in energy efficiency. Work in Minnesota’s energy efficiency sector reduces greenhouse gas emissions, energy consumption and energy costs across the state. Besides the physical manufacturing of efficient technologies and the retrofitting of existing buildings, a lot of the work in the energy efficiency sector happens behind the scenes. To better understand the responsibilities of an energy efficiency worker, we’ve looked at the impacts our member businesses have in this sector.
What is an energy efficiency job?
In Minnesota, the largest proportion of energy efficiency workers are in the industry’s construction sector. According to the US Department of Energy’s 2021 Energy Employment by State Report, Minnesota has over 25,000 energy efficiency construction workers. These jobs are fairly physical, and revolve around the installation of new energy efficient technology, as well as maintenance of existing systems. Upgrading HVAC systems, installing LED lighting and replacing worn-out insulation are all examples of responsibilities of energy efficiency construction workers.
The manufacturing sector of the energy efficiency workforce has over 4,500 employees in Minnesota. The development and manufacturing of clean technology provides the foundation for the later implementation of energy efficiency installations and upgrades. Once these upgraded systems are in place, the responsibility turns to analysts to monitor performance data. With more recent technology, businesses are now able to remotely alter a building’s energy system based on its respective performance report.
Professional energy efficiency services act as liaisons between infrastructure companies and energy consumers. These services help consumers make informed decisions about which clean energy technologies or financing programs are most applicable and beneficial for them. For the consumer, these decisions reduce energy consumption and, ultimately, increase energy savings over time. For the larger community, increased energy efficiency lowers emissions by reducing the reliance on power plants.
Business leaders are the main proponents of energy efficiency across the state. 75F, based in Bloomington, Minnesota, specializes in manufacturing electronics, and their building systems rely on a vertically-integrated model that combines the hardware and software of a project. Installing up-to-date sensors and thermostats on-site, for example, allows for the monitoring of real-time data. 75F couples these systems with wireless controls which can be accessed remotely and lead to more immediate and specific adjustments.
With breakthrough technology and systems, the energy efficiency workforce is full of diverse job opportunities. 75F employee, Madhushan Tennakoon, for example, turned his background in engineering into a career as a Machine Learning Developer. Tennakoon works with computers, teaching them to analyze thousands of data sets and look for patterns. These patterns often reveal insights into a building’s specific energy usage and can lead to developments in specialized technologies. Tennakoon explained that this computer function is not a new development, however its use in the energy efficiency industry is an innovative approach to building monitoring.
Transitioning into energy efficiency
Having an educational background in clean energy is often not necessary to join the sector’s workforce. In Minnesota, 3,918 of energy efficiency jobs belong to trade workers. With the advancements being made in the HVAC industry, technicians are needed to help keep buildings functioning. From there, it is a matter of fine-tuning skills to include energy efficiency installations and specifications.
At Trane, there is an emphasis on building automation systems. Similar to 75F’s vertically-integrated model, Trane’s approach to electrifying buildings’ energy systems serves to further increase the accessibility of sustainable building management. This process, however, relies on the basic understanding of electrical systems. A background as an electrician, for example, provides this required knowledge and opens the door to further jobs within the clean energy industry.
Most businesses work with the consumer from an energy efficiency project’s initial inspection, through its design and construction, up to its final management. Being involved in the entire process means a lot of moving parts, and requires a whole team of workers. Willdan is one example of a company that works to meet their consumers’ individual energy needs by guiding them through the entire retrofitting process. To successfully complete these projects, there is heavy reliance on administrative and logistical planning. In this example, project management is a strong quality that lends itself to the energy efficiency sector.
Minnesota takes action
The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy ranks Minnesota first in the Midwest and ninth in the nation for its energy efficiency programs. At a state level, Minnesota stands out for its loan programs supporting energy efficiency investments as well as its Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing options. These programs make energy efficiency upgrades more accessible to energy consumers which, in turn, spurs further job growth.
Along with providing funding and support for individual energy efficiency projects, the state government seeks to lead by example. In state-owned buildings, energy efficiency measures must be adopted to not only enact cost-effective changes, but to also achieve a 30% reduction in energy use by 2027. There is not any one community or sector that has the greatest impact on energy efficiency, but it is a combined effort between consumers and the workforce to reduce energy consumption and improve efficiency measures.