SOLAR 2013: NREL Tool Estimates Economic Impacts of RE

solar2013Imagine being able to advocate for a renewable energy project or policy in your locality by offering projections of the associated jobs, earnings and total economic activity, based on real data. Turns out there’s a tool for that.

SOLAR 2013 kicked off this morning in Baltimore with nine tracks of parallel sessions that included a forum about the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s JEDI models. JEDI, which stands for Jobs and Economic Development Impact, is a series of free online calculators for estimating employment and other impacts that result from investment in new power generation or fuel production. Models cover wind, PV, CSP, biofuels, geothermal and other industries, with defaults based on interviews with industry experts and project developers. NREL’s David Keyser, who manages JEDI, described the potential value and limitations of the models. Keyser urged project developers to contact him in confidence to provide data to seed the models, improving their accuracy.

Dane Zammit from Jame Madison University’s Virginia Center for Wind Energy, shared a JEDI case study for offshore wind in Virginia, the Carolinas and Georgia.  Through five scenarios, JEDI estimates demonstrated that the Southeast has the capacity to be a long-term leader in offshore wind. The scenario deemed most realistic by Zammit’s team estimated that a 252-MW capacity project could create 4,211 FTE jobs during construction and 414 FTE jobs in operations and maintenance through 2020. (Zammit noted that these were not net jobs, as JEDI doesn’t consider, for example, jobs lost in competing industries like coal.)

Peter Olmstead, East Coast solar advocate for The Vote Solar Initiative, shared his team’s experience using JEDI in 2011 to analyze the implications of a specific policy then proposed in Delaware to promote PV adoption. Olmstead used JEDI to analyze several program options — with scenarios incentivizing only small-scale PV systems, only utility-scale systems, and scenarios including all market segments. The results estimated hundreds of jobs created and millions of dollars in earnings and economic output.

Vote Solar has used JEDI in advocacy efforts in six states so far. According to Olmstead, “The tool has been amazing for us in terms of what it provides.”

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