Off the Northway: Region leads nation on green jobs

Surprisingly, the Capital Region is a national leader when it comes to creating clean-energy jobs.

Surprisingly, the Capital Region is a national leader when it comes to creating clean-energy jobs.

A report by the Brookings Institute, a respected Washington think tank, found that the Albany-Schenectady-Troy area has more than 28,000 jobs in “clean” or “green” industries.

Using Brookings’ broad definition, a government energy regulator, a CDTA bus driver and a wind turbine mechanic all have green jobs, along with the researchers and scientists who develop and debug new technologies. State capitals, from Raleigh to Sacramento to Albany, tend to be magnets for clean energy jobs, Brookings found.

Here, they account for 6.3 percent of the region’s jobs, which Brookings says is the highest percentage anywhere in the United States — and an indication of where we’re heading. “Clean” and “green” are going to grow.

Remember that President Barack Obama — who, granted, has shorter-term worries, too — has set a national goal of producing 80 percent of domestic electricity from clean sources by 2035.

For that to happen, all of the clean technologies we know — solar, wind, fuel cells, better batteries — will need to be on the table. The Capital Region has an ankle in the water with all of them.

The computer technology cluster developing around the University at Albany and GlobalFoundries is good for alternative energy, too.

At the technical level, there’s a big overlap between computer chip-making and photovoltaic solar cells, which make electrical current directly from sunlight.

That conjunction is one of the reasons UAlbany’s College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering has landed a $57.5 million federal grant for new solar energy research and why the region’s economic developers, having spent more than a decade rather successfully wooing the computer chip industry, think trying to attract solar industry jobs is a logical follow-up.

At the moment, though, wind seems to be king of the alternative energy universe. Brookings reported there are 5,000 wind energy jobs in the Capital Region, nearly all created since 2003. Most of them are at General Electric in Schenectady, where GE has its alternative energy headquarters and wind turbine center.

GE is also eyeing the region for its new battery plant and for future solar energy investments.

As promising as the technologies sound, there are still a lot of practical problems to work through.

The problem with wind, of course, is that it doesn’t blow all the time, and electricity can only be generated when it’s blowing. But there are people working on those problems.

The state Energy Research and Development Authority — where all the jobs presumedly count as “green” — is putting $300,000 into an effort to deal with one wind energy issue.

It has awarded funding to Hewlett-Packard, Advanced Micro Devices and Clarkson University in Potsdam to look at whether data-processing work — which sucks a heck of a lot of juice — could be shifted instantly from place to place, following the wind. AMD was the parent company of GlobalFoundries.

In New York state, data centers account for 3 percent of all electricity consumed, and their demand is expected to double over the next five years, according to NYSERDA officials.

“One way for the New York economy to grow is for us to think about the way we use electricity more intelligently and efficiently to power business technology,” NYSERDA President Francis J. Murray Jr. said last week in announcing the project.

General Electric Global Research in Niskayuna and AWS TruePower of Albany — a firm that predicts the wind — are also part of the project.

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