U.S. energy sector job growth outpaced the economy as a whole in 2021, with construction leading gains in three categories, says the U.S. Dept. of Energy in a June 28 report.

The sector added about 300,000 jobs from 2020 to 2021—growing to 7.8 million from 7.5 million—following a drop the year before due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the 2022 United States Energy & Employment Report. 

Construction gains fueled growth in electric power generation; transmission, storage and distribution; and energy efficiency employment, for a total of 54,849 new jobs. The DOE report totals are based on surveys conducted for the department and on Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm told reporters in a report briefing that jobs in renewable energy sectors such as solar and wind also outpaced the economy, with declines in fossil fuel-related employment.  “That underscores the crucial nature of our investments in economic diversification and in high-quality job creation within fossil fuel communities, especially coal communities,” she said.

Granholm noted that the report predates the rollout of Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act funds, as well as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the disruption of global energy markets that have ramped up U.S. oil and gas projects, particularly LNG.

Another more recent factor impeding renewables project growth has been the threat since early this year of retroactive federal tariffs on solar panel components imported from Asia, in the wake of a federal Commerce Dept. probe. Those tariffs now are halted for 24 months.

Ali Zaidi, White House deputy national climate advisor, pointed to initiatives such as the private sector ramping up manufacturing capability for electric vehicle chargers and East Coast offshore wind projects—including the conversion of at least one former coal plant to bring the power onto the grid—as sources of future energy job growth.

“This is grid-strengthening work,” Zaidi said. “This is important construction work that will help us build a better America.”

Construction accounted for the largest number of employees in electric power generation with 285,866 workers, as well as the largest number of new jobs in the sector, with 11,333, according to the report. The total number was still down from 299,391 before the pandemic. Construction also made up the most jobs in solar, wind and bioenergy sectors. 

Also as of last year, there were 456,213 construction jobs in power transmission, distribution and storage—with 17,612 new jobs added.

Energy efficiency sector employment is largely concentrated in construction, with nearly 1.17 million total workers and 25,131 new jobs, according to the report. 

But construction also faced some of the greatest difficulty hiring workers, DOE reports, with 92% of industry survey respondents in electric power generation and 91% in energy efficiency noting it was “very difficult” or “somewhat difficult” to find employees.

Despite hiring challenges, energy sector construction job growth was also expected to continue in 2022, DOE says.