Saul Griffith wants to electrify everything and rewire America


I’m Saul Griffith, and I have a plan to fight climate change by electrifying everything based on renewable energy. We need to rewire America in order to have a cleaner, healthier future.

That’s going to take a lot of jobs, which is great news at a time when we have more unemployment in America since the Depression. Oil and gas interests would have us believe that the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy will mean a lot of people will be out of work. But we’ve done the math, and in fact we will gain 25 million good-paying new jobs over the next 15 years by building clean energy infrastructure.

Sure, we will have to take care of the people who currently work on oil rigs and in coal mining, and many of them will retire during this transition. But to put things in perspective, right now the country has 50,000 coal workers, compared with 450,000 hair stylists, 350,000 people who work in golf clubs, and, pre-COVID, 10 million in restaurants.

Since I’m an engineer, I’ve estimated the number of jobs we will need based on what we need to build to reach livable climate goals of under 2 degrees of warming.

To decarbonize, we will need to supply three times as much electricity capacity as we have now, which will mean millions of miles of new and upgraded transmission and distribution to get the electricity to the end user. On the demand side we’ll need to electrify our 250 million vehicles, 130 million households, 6 million trucks, all of our manufacturing and industrial processes, and 5.5 million commercial buildings covering 90 billion square feet.

Batteries, heat pumps, induction stoves, EVs, water heaters

From those numbers we can estimate how many batteries, heat pumps, induction stoves, electric cars, water heaters that will need to be manufactured and installed. Then we add the jobs we’ll need education, training, regulations, and other areas to accomplish this transition. All told, it’s 25 million jobs, including the “induced” jobs that are created when people with jobs, say, installing solar panels spend their money in the communities, employing butchers, bakers, and LED makers.

After the initial infrastructure build-up, we’ll have a sustained net 5 million jobs more than in the current fossil-fueled world.

What’s very important is that since we have to build all these things in our communities – put solar panels on our roofs, and electric cars in our garages – these aren’t jobs that can be outsourced. These are good-paying American jobs that will stay in America.

None of this can be done without massive investment, commitment, and mobilization. But we’ve done this before. Prior to World War II, our army was in such poor shape that we had to use ice cream trucks as stand-ins for tanks in training exercises. But we had an unprecedented ramp-up in military production and helped defeat the Axis Powers while ushering in America’s greatest period of prosperity, with a stable middle class.


Saul Griffith is an inventor, MacArthur “genius” awardee, and co-founder of Rewiring America.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own, and do not necessarily reflect those held by pv magazine.

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