Advanced energy industry grows in Tennessee

Advanced energy industry grows in Tennessee

June 17th, 2015 by Dave Flessner in Business Around the Region

Oak Ridge National Laboratory tile

Photo by The Knoxville News Sentinel /Times Free Press.

Nearly 325,000 jobs in Tennessee, including 23,130 in Hamilton County, are supported by advanced energy companies that do everything from improving energy efficiency to generating power from renewable sources to better automotive technologies, an economic study released today shows.

Despite a slowdown in the growth on energy consumption, a University of Tennessee economic study found that businesses identifying ways to generate power in new ways or with greater efficiency and reliability are growing faster than the economy as a whole.

Tennessee's advanced energy sector contributes $33.4 billion to state gross domestic product, while workers in the advanced energy sector pay more than $820 million in sales tax to state and local governments, the UT study found. The annual average wage of a worker in advanced energy was $48,764, which is well above the state average.

"Within the past five years, we've seen an explosion in advanced energy industry," said Jim Plourde, national business development manager for Schneider Electric in La Vergne, Tenn. and a leader of the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council that paid for the economic study. "I think Tennessee provides a very unique opportunity between our research facilities, our universities, the abundant amount of startup capital and our relatively low cost of living and tax rates. It's a real recipe for success."

Much of the growth in Tennessee is being driven by the automotive industry, which is working to reach a fleet average mileage standard of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.

Tennessee also benefits by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the biggest federal energy lab in the country with a $1.4 billion annual budget for the study of a variety of advanced energy fields.

Finally, with below-average power costs from the Tennessee Valley Authority, major solar and wind equipment manufacturers, including the $2 billion Wacker polysilicon production facility in Charleston, Tenn., are adding jobs in the state.

In Chattanooga, Signal Energy Constructors has expanded its staff 40 percent in the past year due to increased demand for wind and other renewable energy generation across North America.

"Because advanced energy is a relatively new and emerging industry, there was no comprehensive inventory of the economic activity that falls under the advanced energy umbrella for Tennessee - until now," said Tom Ballard, president of Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council and the chief alliance officer at Pershing Yoakley & Associates. "The report shows that Tennessee is a national and international leader in this rapidly growing, $1.3 trillion global marketplace."