Economic turmoil may bring green energy's record-setting growth rate to a screeching halt in 2009, but the long-term trends for greener power will make solar and wind major employers over the next decade.

Those are some conclusions from the "Clean Energy Trends 2009" report released Tuesday by Portland, Ore.-based research firm Clean Edge.

The report projected that jobs in the solar and wind energy industries will more than quadruple over the next decade, from about 600,000 today to 2.65 million in 2018.

Those jobs will be linked to what Clean Edge predicted will be a $325 billion solar, wind and biofuel industry by 2018, the report predicted.

But first, renewable energy will have to face a year of flat or declining growth, the report predicted.

"Some have called clean energy the mother of all markets," Ron Pernick, Clean Edge co-founder and principal, said in a Tuesday morning conference call. "But the transition won't be easy in the most dire economic landscape since the Great Depression."

While global revenues for the solar, wind and biofuel industries grew from about $75.8 billion in 2007 to $115.9 billion in 2008, Pernick expects this year to see no growth or a slight decline in revenues.

That's par for the course amongst green energy predictions, given that the collapse of global credit markets and the deepening recession have dried up capital for large-scale power projects.

That crunch will likely lead to many solar startups canceling projects or seeing them absorbed by larger, better-funded competitors, said Clean Edge's Joel Makower he pointed to the example of startup OptiSolar, which had its 1.85 gigawatts of solar power projects under development taken over by thin-film solar module market leader First Solar last week (see  First Solar Buys OptiSolar's Power Projects).

"A lot of companies came on to the market, with bold and audacious goals," he said. Those companies "aren't going away, but they've certainly gotten more humble."

Of course, the massive stimulus package signed into law last month will help renewable power developers weather the storm, as will changes to energy policy late last year that opened up renewable energy tax credits to utilities, Pernick said (see PG&E to Get Solar Power for the First Time).

But all that government spending – including $11 billion for "smart grid" projects, $6 billion in loan guarantees for renewable energy projects and $20 billion in tax incentives and credits for renewable energy, plug-in electric vehicles and energy efficiency – won't reverse the damage being done by the lack of debt and equity financing, only mitigate it, he said.

In the meantime, fields to watch this year include so-called "smart grid" technologies to outfit electricity distribution grids with two-way communications to sense and control energy use from utilities to end users, as well as new technologies to store electricity from intermittent renewable sources, Clean Edge's Clint Wilder said (see For 2009, It's All About Smart Grid and Storage).

Here's the report by the numbers:

  • $115.9 billion. That's the total amount of venture capital, project finance, public and research and development investment aimed at energy technologies worldwide in 2008, according to New Energy Finance. That's a 4.7 percent increase from 2007's $148.4 billion – and a big drop in growth from 2007's 60 percent growth rate, demonstrating the effects that the economic downturn had in the last half of last year.
  • 11.84 percent. That's the share of total global venture capital investment that went to clean energy companies in 2008, the highest percentage ever, according to New Energy Finance. The firm said $3.35 billion went to clean energy investments in 2008 out of $28.3 billion in total investments, up from $2.67 billion in 2007 out of a total of $29.4 billion.
  • $139.1 billion. That's how much Clean Edge expects the wind power industry to bring in revenues by 2018, up from about $51.4 billion in 2008.
  • $105.4 billion. That's the equivalent revenue figure projected for biofuels by 2018, up from $34.8 billion last year.
  • $80.6 billion. That's the 2018 revenue projection for solar power, up from $29.4 billion in 2008.

Join industry leaders and influencers at Surviving the Shakeout: Greentech Media’s 2009 Solar Industry Summit in Phoenix, Ariz., April 14–15.