Image: Solar panels in San Diego
California's investments in renewable energy help make San Diego one of the hottest markets for green jobs in the U.S.
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updated 11/6/2008 8:00:35 PM ET 2008-11-07T01:00:35

Despite the gloom and doom pouring out of Wall Street, there is at least one genuine bright spot left in the U.S. economy — and it has a decidedly green hue.

The U.S. had tallied than 750,000 green jobs in 2006 and is set to add millions more in the next few decades, according to a new report by the U.S. Conference of Mayors and Global Insight, a Boston-based economic research firm.

In fact, the green economy could soon become the nation's fastest-growing job segment, accounting for roughly 10 percent of new jobs over the next 20 years. The report forecasts that by 2038, renewable electricity production will create 1.23 million jobs; alternative transportation fuels, 1.5 million jobs; engineering, legal, research and consulting positions will be more than 1.4 million; and commercial and residential retrofits at 81,000 jobs, for a total of 4.2 million.

Where will they be? The country's big cities, like Houston.

Although the home of the 10-gallon hat is hardly a modern ecotopia, Houston has the third-largest green job market in the country. Like it or not, the green economy is not about making the world a better place — it's about making money on making the world a better place. And Houston, which encompasses two of the most polluted counties in the country and leads the nation in carbon dioxide emissions, is good at making money off of energy. One reason the wind power sector has grown so rapidly in Texas is that the state's oil industry has decades of experience building big projects like wind farms.

Washington, D.C., should prove another hot spot for green. In the past two years, the nation's largest landlord — the U.S. government — has put energy efficiency high on its list of priorities. Ultimately, the investment could generate substantial returns for the federal government in the form of lower energy costs for the more than half-million buildings it oversees. It can add sparking the growth of a green job market in the capital to the list.

Boston largely missed the boat on the boom in information technology, but hasn't missed the green boom by any measure. The brain trusts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard and more than a dozen other universities have become pioneers of renewable energy and environmental remediation.

California encompasses three of the nation's 10 largest green jobs markets: San Francisco, San Diego and Los Angeles. When the Internet bubble popped nearly a decade ago, a generation of ambitious entrepreneurs who arrived late to the party turned their attention to the nation's environmental and energy problems.

A number of venture capitalists, including John Doerr, went with them. So did California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger when he enacted aggressive clean energy and carbon emissions standards for the state.

And as for the nation's largest green jobs market? Well, Wall Street's meltdown could be a blessing in disguise. New York City — no, that's not a misprint — reported more than 25,000 green jobs in 2006. By 2038, New York's green economy could generate nearly 200,000 jobs, many in architecture, design and engineering.

If a lot of super-ambitious, ultra hard-working investment bankers suddenly find themselves out of work, odds are they'll reinvent themselves in the green space. How's that for recycling?

© 2012 Forbes.com

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