Labor pathways to achieve net-zero emissions in the United States by mid-century

Erin Mayfield, Jesse Jenkins, Eric Larson, Chris Greig

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Achieving an economy-wide net-zero emissions goal by mid-century in the United States entails transforming not only the physical energy system, but also the energy workforce. In this study, we develop and demonstrate a labor model, tailored to the context of energy system transitions, and coupled with geospatially-resolved, supply-side energy system activity projections. We find that a net-zero transition supports an annual average of approximately 3 million direct energy jobs or $200 billion in wages during the first decade, and approximately 4–8 million direct energy jobs or $200–500 billion during the 2040s. The modeled supply-side energy workforce represents 1.5% of the total U.S. labor force in 2020, increasing to 2.5–5% by mid-century. Boom-and-bust cycles arise, with employment and wage losses in declining fossil fuel sectors offset (in aggregate) by increases in low carbon resource sectors. We further estimate training, education, and experience requirements, finding that the diversity of workforce development needs will be similar to historical transitions, but at a much larger scale over a sustained time period. We also show that labor pathways are influenced by policy-mediated factors such as technology selection, pace of infrastructure expansion, infrastructure siting and investment decisions, oil and gas exports, workforce development, labor productivity, and extent of domestic manufacturing. Most states have the potential to experience long-term expansion in the supply-side energy workforce, but substantial state-level variation is possible in labor pathways depending on resource availability, siting decisions, and political bargaining.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number113516
JournalEnergy Policy
StatePublished - Jun 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Energy
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


  • Decarbonization
  • Equity
  • Labor
  • Macro-energy systems
  • Net-zero energy systems


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