Green tech may not be giants job creator

February 10, 2012 9:31:48 PM PST
Tech leaders in the Silicon Valley are warning that green tech may not be the giant job creator it was predicted to be.

Solar energy has been a major focus of the green tech movement. But recent set-backs caused by low-cost competition from China and the failure of Solyndra have also impacted job creation. But there's more to green tech than solar.

Venture capitalists invested $3 billion into clean or green technology last year -- an all-time high. At the same time, government is cutting back.

"Research and development funds there are being squeezed," Stanford University Professor James Sweeney said. "Even the California level, we had the public interest research program that went through the California Energy Commission. The legislature was not willing to even fund that."

San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed told business and community leaders Friday the city still has a goal to create 25,000 clean tech jobs. But the current number is 7,000.

Many of them are solar-related. But highly automated manufacturing doesn't require many workers.

"They'll put a $100 million machine inside of a building, and they'll have a few technicians and a few PhD's," Reed said. "They're manufacturing. It's just that the cost of labor is relatively small because of the technology and equipment."

Greater job growth may come instead from companies focusing on energy efficiency, not harnessing solar.

Cypress Envirosystems is a 5-year-old start-up that retrofits older commercial buildings. An estimated 70 percent of them, mostly built before 1997, don't have systems to monitor energy use or to boost energy efficiency.

CEO Harry Sims says he's creating service jobs. He has 37 employees now, but projects he could have 200 in five years.

"You need to go in there and install things, to install the wireless, to get the data, to service it, to keep it up and running, and those are jobs that can't be outsourced somewhere else," Sims said.

Reed and others speaking at the Joint Venture Silicon Valley conference say local cities will now have to take the lead to support green tech start-ups and to encourage job growth.

Even if green tech doesn't produce explosive job growth, mayor reed of san jose says for every one job created, it supports two or three other jobs.


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