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Front Page - Friday, September 7, 2018

Advanced energy sector soars

Solar photovoltaic installers are looking at job growth of 104.9 percent during the next eight years, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. - shutterstock.com

Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council states the advanced energy sector is so strong in Tennessee that it outperforms the state’s overall economy, employing nearing 360,000 Tennesseans in more than 18,000 businesses that contribute almost $40 billion to the state’s gross domestic product.

The Council, a Knoxville-based non-profit trade group made of companies in the sector, promotes advanced energy as a jobs creator and economic development strategy in the state.

Examples of advanced energy fields include any technology that makes energy for transportation cleaner, safer, more secure and more efficient. Examples include wind, solar, and new nuclear technologies, electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles, lightweight composites in the automotive industry, natural-gas fueled trucks, bioenergy, pollution-control equipment, smart grids, combined heat and power, high-performance buildings, more efficient industrial technologies and power reliability.

“I think health care and advanced energy are both very important drivers for the state economy and employment,” says Matt Kisber, president and CEO of Silicon Ranch Corp., and TAEBC president. “Advanced energy accounts for nearly 14 percent of total state employment and those working in the sector earn an average wage of $59,665, significantly higher than the state’s economy-wide average of $44,317.”

Although advanced-energy jobs are growing in all of Tennessee’s urban centers and in some rural counties, Kisber says, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory serves as the state’s “crown jewel” of advanced energy careers.

“Tennessee has been very blessed to have a diverse set of industries to make the economy more robust,” Kisber adds. “We were also extremely blessed [to have] ORNL and the billions of dollars a year that go into research on energy and advanced materials so that products can be more energy efficient.

“The technologies and research that come out of there – and the opportunities to incorporate those into our existing industries as well as creating new companies and industries – is an extremely valuable asset.”

Courtney Piper, vice president of TAEBC, says members of the group list engineers – from entry level positions up to senior managers – as the most sought-after employee.

“Our members also talk about needing solutions architects and product development engineers,” she adds. “There’s certainly no shortage of skills and expertise needed.”

Kisber says there are high-paying jobs in the advanced energy sector that require either two-year degrees or advanced certification.

“Whether it’s technical training or academic training they [job applicants] almost all require more than the average education than non-skilled jobs,” he explains. “That means the quality of the training or education is extremely important for use to be able to sustain the growth of these industries and these jobs. We are continually advocating for investment in high-skilled training.”

– Linda Bryant