About the Census

Since 2008, the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association (NCSEA) has surveyed the clean energy industry in North Carolina in order to quantify its impact on the state’s economy. 2015 is the third year of an expanded geographic scope. The 2013 and 2014 Censuses included South Carolina and Virginia. Due to staffing changes in those states, the 2015 Census only includes Georgia and North Carolina. The Southeast Clean Energy Industry Census leverages the successful methodology employed by NCSEA to provide state-level and four-state analyses of the region’s clean energy industry.

Census Partners

A Conservative Approach

Each Partner compiled a list of clean energy companies, organizations, and institutions (collectively referred to as firms) in its state. Each state-level Census relied on a common questionnaire developed by the Partners, as well as an online survey tool and phone-banking system managed by North Carolina State University Center for Urban Affairs and Community Services (NC State). NCSEA performed the data analysis of all Census data with input from the Partners.

The Partners utilized the approach taken by NCSEA during the first five iterations of the North Carolina Clean Energy Industry Census from 2008 – 2012, and again in 2014. The Census provides direct findings from self-reported data by participating firms, as well as modeled data. These responding and modeled firms represent a significant portion of the states’ clean energy industry, but certainly do not cover all activity.

Moreover, because two employees who spend 50% of their time on clean energy are counted as 1 full-time equivalent (FTE) job, the actual number of people directly engaged in the region’s clean energy industry is greater than FTE jobs identified in this Census. The conservative nature of the analysis means that the economic benefits of the region’s clean energy industry are greater than what is presented in the 2015 Census.

Identifying Clean Energy Firms

  1. Each Partner reviewed the 2014 list of clean energy firms and removed firms that are no longer in the clean energy industry.
  2. Each Partner compiled a preliminary list of firms potentially in its state’s clean energy industry from the following sources:
    • Lists of firms maintained by the Partner.
    • Publically available industry websites.
    • Lists maintained by other organizations.
    • Online searches.
  3. Each Partner assessed whether each firm is involved in a clean energy business sector included in the Census. See Sector Definitions section below for details.
  4. For firms deemed to be within the scope, each Partner identified primary and secondary contacts and obtained their email and telephone information.
  5. Each Partner shared its preliminary list of clean energy firms with other Partners to eliminate duplicate entries.
  6. Each Partner delivered its list of clean energy firms to NC State. NC State conducted the online survey and follow-up phone interviews.

Performing the Survey

  1. Each firm received an email that included a hyperlink to the online survey, as well as unique login and password credentials.
  2. Each Partner sent multiple reminder emails to those firms that had not completed the survey.
  3. NC State conducted phone interviews with firms that had not yet completed the online survey.
  4. The Partners closed the survey on October 1, 2015.

Identifying Business Units

Firms were asked to self-identify as being involved in the clean energy industry by indicating they had at least one employee dedicating a portion of their time to one of the nine business activities in one of ten clean energy business sectors. Each activity within a clean energy industry sector is defined as a clean energy business unit (e.g., Research and Development / Solar). The 2015 Census has 90 activity/sector cross-sections resulting from combinations of the following activities and sectors:

Activities Sectors
Design or Construction of New Buildings Alternative Fuel Vehicles
Sale of Building System Components Biomass/Biofuels
Sale of Renewable Energy Systems Energy Efficiency
Installation, Design, or Development of Renewable Energy Systems Energy Storage
Installation or Maintenance of Building System Components Fuel Cells
Manufacturing/Production Geothermal
Power Generation Hydropower/Marine
Profession Services, Education, or Consulting Smart Grid
Research and Development Solar

Through this selection process, each responding firm indicated its clean energy business unit(s). Firms were asked to provide their total full-time equivalent employment and total gross annual revenue at all locations. Firms were also asked to complete metrics for each of their clean energy business unit(s), including:

Calculating Full-Time Equivalent Employees of Responding Firms

The Partners used full-time equivalent employees, or FTEs, as opposed to the number of individual employees. FTE is representational of a single 30 hour per week block of employment. NCSEA calculated clean energy FTE employees by multiplying a firm’s total number of FTE employees at the time of the survey by the percentage of total staff time that the firm dedicated to each of its clean energy business units in each state. FTEs provide a high degree of flexibility for accurately modeling the equivalent man-hours spent working on clean energy. For example, two employees who spend 50% of their time on clean energy would be calculated as a clean energy FTE of 1.0.

Because Census analysis is based on direct responses of firms, any FTE job modification or lack of participation by major employers will have a more pronounced impact on FTE job totals of smaller sectors (e.g., Biomass/Biofuels and Energy Storage) than larger sectors (e.g., Energy Efficiency and Solar).

Calculating Annual Revenue of Responding Firms

The Partners asked firms to report their total gross annual revenue from the most recent fiscal year (2014/2015 in this case) by selecting from the following revenue ranges:

  1. Less than $100,000
  2. $100,000 to less than $250,000
  3. $250,000 to less than $500,000
  4. $500,000 to less than $1 million
  5. $1 million to less than $2.5 million
  6. $2.5 million to less than $5 million
  7. $5 million to less than $10 million
  8. $10 million to less than $25 million
  9. $25 million to less than $50 million
  10. $50 million to less than $100 million
  11. $100 million to less than $250 million
  12. $250 million to less than $500 million
  13. $500 million or more
  14. Prefer not to answer
  15. Do not know

Firms were then assigned a revenue number equal to the median value the range they selected. A firm falling in the “less than $100,000” bracket was classified as “$50,000.” Firms in the “$500 million or more” bracket were classified as $500 million. To calculate a firm’s revenue by clean energy business unit, NCSEA multiplied the firm’s total revenue by the percentage of total staff time that the firm dedicated to each business unit active in each state. As with the FTE jobs analysis, any revenue modification, lack of providing revenue data, or lack of participation by major firms will have a more pronounced impact on revenue totals of smaller sectors than larger ones.

Modeled Firms

NCSEA used survey response data to estimate the total number of clean energy firms active in each state. This included firms that responded to the Census survey as well as additional firms that were modeled based on the data from responding firms. NCSEA used the following process for estimating the total number of clean energy firms and assigning them characteristics:

  1. Each Partner compiled an updated list of firms potentially involved in its state’s clean energy industry. All of these firms were contacted via email and/or telephone and a percentage of them provided complete survey responses. NC State placed all of the firms, regardless of whether they provided a responses, into the following categories:
    • Completed Interviews – Firms that completed the survey through a phone interview with NC State.
    • Completed Online – Firms that completed the survey online via the email link.
    • Respondent Will Do Online – Firms that indicated to NC State over the phone that they would take the survey online, but did not complete the survey.
    • Respondent Ineligible – Firms that self-identified as not being involved in the clean energy industry.
    • Duplicate ID – Firms that appeared on the initial list twice.
    • Attempts Exhausted – Firms that NC State was unable to contact over the phone and did not complete the survey online.
    • Wrong Number – The provided phone number was incorrect.
    • Out of Service – The provided phone number was no longer in service.
    • Refused – Firms that indicated they were not willing to participate in the survey but did not self-identify as being ineligible.
  2. NCSEA identified the firms in the Completed Interviews, Completed Online, Respondent Will Do Online, and Refused categories as active in each state’s clean energy industry.
  3. NCSEA identified the firms in the Respondent Ineligible, Duplicate ID, Wrong Number, and Out of Service Categories as not active in each state’s clean energy industry.
  4. NCSEA estimated the percentage of the remaining firms, those in the Attempts Exhausted category, that are active in each state’s clean energy industry using the following calculation:
    Completed Interviews, Completed Online, Respondent Will Do Online, and Refused Categories × Attempts Exhausted = Additional Firms Active in Each State’s Clean Energy Industry
    Total Number of Firms Contacted
  5. NCSEA added the firms in Step 2 and 4 to determine the estimated number of firms active in each state’s clean energy industry.
  6. NCSEA determined the number of modeled firms by subtracting the number of Completed Interviews and Completed Online responses from the total number of firms in the industry.
  7. NCSEA calculated an 80% trimmed mean for the FTE and revenue in each business unit (activity/sector cross-section) by removing the upper and lower 10% of the reported FTE and associated revenue.
  8. NCSEA applied the resulting trimmed means of FTE and revenue for the 90 activity/sector cross-sections to the modeled firms based on their relative percentages in the direct response data, i.e., information provided through the Completed Interviews and Completed Online responses.

A Note about Removed Firms

The Partners assessed all responses and identified firms that provided data that clearly appeared to overstate employment or revenues. These firms were contacted again in an effort to validate their responses. The Partners kept in the data set corrected responses from firms who retook the Census and eliminated from the dataset responses from firms that could not be reached.

Sector Definitions

For the Census, the clean energy industry contains the following ten business sectors:

  1. Alternative Fuel Vehicles – Alternative Fuel Vehicles are those that run exclusively on alternative fuels, including electricity, or a blend of traditional petroleum fuels and alternative fuels. These include, but are not limited to:
    • Hybrid electric vehicles
    • Electric vehicles
    • Flexible-fuel vehicles
    • Biofuel vehicles
    • Natural gas vehicles
    This sector also includes firms involved in the conversion of traditional fuel vehicles to run on alternative fuels.
  2. Biomass/Biofuels – This sector relates to the generation of heat or electricity from either the combustion of organic and waste materials, or their conversion to biofuels. These organic and waste materials include, but are not limited to:
    • Plant-based sources (e.g., wood, grasses, or natural oils)
    • Municipal wastewater
    • Municipal solid waste
  3. Energy Efficiency – This sector employs technologies, products, and services that reduce the amount of energy required for processes, tasks, or buildings. Examples of firms in this sector, include, but are not limited to:
    • Developers or installers of more efficient lighting technologies or HVAC systems
    • Producers or installers of other energy conservation technologies for buildings
    • Energy Star, LEED, or EarthCraft builders
    • Developers of more efficient manufacturing processes
  4. Energy Storage – This sector covers energy storage devices or physical media that are used to store energy, in various forms, for use at a later time. Technologies and products currently included in the sector are:
    • Batteries
    • Mechanical storage mechanisms such as compressed air or flywheels
    • Thermal storage
  5. Fuel Cells – This sector includes technologies or devices that convert chemical energy from a fuel source into electricity through an oxidizing reaction. Fuel sources may include:
    • Hydrogen
    • Hydrocarbons such as natural gas, methanol, or other alcohols
  6. Geothermal – This sector includes both Geothermal Energy and Ground Source Heat Pump (GSHP) technology. Geothermal Energy utilizes the thermal energy (heat) stored in the Earth to generate electricity, while GSHP is a central heating and cooling system that transfers heat to or from the ground.
  7. Hydropower/Marine – Hydropower refers to harnessing the force of falling or flowing water, including marine waves, for useful purposes such as generating electricity or creating mechanical force.
  8. Smart Grid – This sector incorporates technologies and products related to updating the current electricity grid infrastructure with increased multidirectional communication, data collection, and automation. This includes, but is not limited to, digital metering equipment, sensors, controls, and related software.
  9. Solar – This sector includes technologies and products related to the conversion of sunlight either directly into electricity through photovoltaic cells or indirectly through concentrated solar power. The sector also includes solar thermal products that harness sunlight to meet thermal requirements for residential, commercial, or industrial processes.
  10. Wind – The wind sector includes products related to the harnessing of wind energy. This includes, but is not limited to, wind turbines for the creation of electricity, wind pumps for pumping and drainage power, and windmills for mechanical power.
To qualify as being active in a specific sector, a firm must perform at least one of the following nine activities with that sector: