How Will We Replace Power Plant Jobs?

‘Millions of new well-paying jobs’ is the political mantra for accelerating investments in non-fossil fuel energy and transportation infrastructure.

And in fact, speeding up the development of wind and solar power, batteries and electric vehicles will create many great jobs, designing, building and installing these ‘green machines.’

But once those machines are built and installed, they won’t need very many people to operate them.

Today’s green power plants are practically robots: operating simply and quietly with no fossil fuel and little human labor needed.

How little labor? Check out this quick spreadsheet I put together with a few data points from this Wall St. Journal article and elsewhere:

While coal and nuclear (with lots of technicians and manual fuel processing) require lots of permanent employees per Megawatt of capacity, gas, solar and wind require very few (or hardly any).

But thats not the whole story. For the fossil fuel plants (gas and coal), these numbers don’t count any of the millions of people who mine the coal, drill for the gas, operate the pipelines, or drive the trains and trucks to get these fuels to the plants to begin with.

When you add those in, even the gas-powered plants employ hundreds (thousands?) of humans, while wind and solar need only twenty or fewer.

This magnitude of projected job loss is obviously a big part of the opposition to green energy. But I also wonder if subconsciously, peoples’ aversion to remote-controlled robots and the financiers and techies who profit from them will be part of this resistance, too?

How we can re-insert permanent jobs for humans back into the energy (and transportation) value chains, now that they’re no longer needed to extract, deliver and process lots of fossil fuels?

Because however green, a world where robots and software displace people is a grim vision.