Renewable energy jobs total 9.4 million: IRENA

Author:
Ilario D'Amato
Reading time: 5 minutes
24 May 2016

LONDON: The renewable energy industry employs a total 9.4 million people around the world, the latest report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) states.

Excluding large hydropower, which counts 1.3 million direct jobs worldwide, today the renewables sector employs more than 8.1 million people – a rise of 5% compared to 7.7 million last year.

Favorable policy frameworks are supporting this growth according to the report, which emphasizes the crucial role national and sub-national governments play in shaping the pathway to a clean, sustainable and prosperous economy.

To this end, the national climate pledges representing the foundations of the historic Paris Agreement must be seen “as investor prospectuses, designed to attract the brightest and best business of the low carbon future,” says Mark Kenber, CEO, The Climate Group. “A clean revolution is key to growth, investment, jobs, health, security: there is no high-carbon prosperous future.”

Adnan Amin, Director-General, IRENA comments on the report’s findings: “The continued job growth in the renewable energy sector is significant because it stands in contrast to trends across the energy sector. This increase is being driven by declining renewable energy technology costs and enabling policy frameworks. We expect this trend to continue as the business case for renewables strengthens and as countries move to achieve their climate targets agreed in Paris.”

A BRIGHT FUTURE FOR SOLAR

On the technology side, solar photovoltaic (PV) continues to lead the renewables revolution, employing about 2.8 million people in the world – the highest rise in all energy sectors, 11% more than the previous year. In particular, solar jobs grew in Japan and the US, counting 377,100 (+28%) and a record 194,000 jobs respectively. Globally, PV installations in 2015 were 20% larger than during the previous year, IRENA says.

The Asian region played a primary role in this boom. Last year, the Government of India announced an ambitious target of increasing solar installed capacity to 100 GW by 2022, of which 40  gigawatts (GW) would come from rooftop solar PV sector.

India’s shift to cleaner energy will bring 1 million jobs by 2022, revealing “an exciting opportunity for entrepreneurs and investors alike to unlock business potential and boost the nation’s energy security and access,” said Dr Parimita Mohanty, Director-Strategic Initiatives, The Climate Group.

On the contrary, solar PV employment in the European Union has fallen by 13% in 2014, the report shows. This was primarily due to a decrease in manufacturing caused by mass production in China and Taiwan, that led to a 80% reduction in the cost of panels since 2008.

WORST POLLUTER, CLEANER INVESTOR

China continues to have the lion’s share of renewables employment worldwide, with more than 3.5 million people in the sector supporting the country’s irresistible rise in clean energy. As a comparison, the country’s oil and gas sector employs 2.6 million people.

Last year, China added more than a third of the global renewable energy capacity additions, the report states. The country’s solar boom is shifting it from its chronic coal dependence, which has caused chronic air pollution in many cities.

China’s solar PV installations increased to a record 15 GW (up from 9.5 GW in 2014), while wind reached 507,000 jobs. Crucially, the country continues to lead in overall clean energy investment, having invested more than US$110 billion in the last year – demonstrating how finance is crucial to accelerate the transition toward a low carbon economy.

US SOLAR HAS WIND ON ITS BACK

Renewables employment in the US increased by 6% last year, reaching 769,000 people, driven by a boom in solar and wind. In fact, solar grew by almost 22% to reach 209,000 employees – 12 times faster than job creation in the whole US economy – mostly thanks to PV and the installations subsector.

Wind employment in the country rose by more than 20% to 88,000 jobs, as new capacity additions grew by two-thirds since 2014 and annual installations by 77% to reach 8.6 GW in 2015.

The residential market is pushing this growth, which is expected to continue thanks to policies drafted by the Congress, IRENA’s report underlines.

But while the clean energy sector at large employs more than 2.5 million Americans, the vast majority (1.9 million) work in the energy efficiency sector, a recent report by Environmental Entrepreneurs shows.

EUROPE STILL LAGGING

Conversely, adverse policy conditions – combined with economic crises – led to reduced investments in the EU’s renewables sector. Clean jobs dropped 3% to reach 1.17 million in 2014, with the wind sector accounting for the majority of them.

While offshore wind dominated jobs growth in the UK, Germany and Denmark – with the three countries leading total global jobs in the sector – the PV sector dramatically dropped, reaching a third of its peak in 2011. The report suggests this decrease was again due to the manufacturing crisis.

“As the ongoing energy transition accelerates, growth in renewable energy employment will remain strong,” concluded Adnan Amin.

“IRENA’s research estimates that doubling the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix by 2030 – enough to meet global climate and development targets – would result in more than 24 million jobs worldwide.”

by Ilario D'Amato

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