Global Renewable Energy Employment Surges 18 Percent to 7.7 Million

Ongoing growth in renewable energy investment and deployment is creating jobs worldwide — and lots of them. This job growth is helping governments address a fundamental economic problem plaguing developed and developing countries alike. Deploying renewables rather than fossil fuel capacity is also reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and other environmental pollution that holds the threat of a sixth great extinction.

Highlighting just how fast the number of green jobs is growing, some 7.7 million people will be employed across the renewable energy value chain globally in 2015, up 18 percent from 6.5 million in 2014, Abu Dhabi-based International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) highlights in its “Renewable Energy and Jobs 2015 Annual Review.”

PV led the way in terms of worldwide renewable energy job growth, with downstream solar jobs accounting for the bulk of employment in the market segment, according to Dr. Rabia Ferroukhi, who leads IRENA’s socioeconmic research team. In addition, while solar and wind generally account for the largest share of employment and growth in renewable energy jobs among countries surveyed, it’s biofuels that employs more people in countries such as Indonesia.

When it comes to sheer job numbers, China’s renewable energy sector employs by far the largest number of people in any one nation. Brazil, the United States, India, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, France, Bangladesh and Colombia are also world leaders when it comes to renewable energy employment and job growth.

Job growth across the renewable energy value chain. Credit: IRENA.

PV sector jobs have tripled since 2011 and now totals an estimated 2.5 million, most in downstream jobs such as PV system installation, said Dr. Ferroukhi. That said, manufacturing continues to be the base of the value chain and accounts for a substantial number of jobs across the renewable energy sector.

The number of renewable energy jobs across different sectors along the value chain varies across countries, Dr. Ferroukhi noted. Manufacturing plays a greater role in China, for instance, and manufacturing jobs are on the rise in other Asian countries as investment shifts outside of China.

Several highlights from the report include:

  • In 2014, the solar PV sector accounted for 2.5 million jobs, of which two-thirds were in China. Solar PV jobs also grew in Japan, while decreasing in the European Union;
  • Biofuels (1.8 million), biomass (822,000) and biogas (381,000) are also major employers, with jobs concentrated in the feedstock supply. While Brazil and the United States continued to dominate, Southeast Asia saw growth in biofuel jobs, reflecting measures to support production;
  • Wind employment crossed the 1 million mark, with China accounting for half of these jobs. The United States, Brazil and the European Union also saw gains;’
  • Solar water heating and cooling employed 764,000 people, more than three-quarters of them in China. Other significant markets are India, Brazil and the European Union;
  • Small hydropower employed about 209,000 people, more than half in China, followed by the European Union, Brazil and India;
  • Large hydropower was estimated to support another 1.5 million direct jobs, mostly in China and largely in construction and installation;

Renewable Energy Sustainable Development

Access to affordable, reliable clean energy is not only a direct driver of job creation in renewable energy businesses, but fosters job creation indirectly. Growing access to clean, renewable energy is increasingly having beneficial impacts in terms of addressing social discontent in developed and developing countries alike. Moreover, it’s a major driver of greenhouse gas reductions and other forms of environmental pollution that is threatening their water, marine, forest and agricultural resource bases.

 “We’re seeing that renewable energy investment, deployment and job creation is having positive impacts socially and environmentally,” said Dr. Ferroukhi. Early results “clearly show the impact [renewable energy deployment] is having on emissions reductions.”

Looking out to 2030, IRENA is studying the overall impacts of an anticipated doubling in renewable energy deployment, which it forecasts would bring global renewable energy sector employment to around 17 million. Achieving this strategic goal, said Dr. Ferroukhi, will require governments to put “the right incentives and policies in place to attract developers and investment in order to maximize the benefits of deployment, which includes industrial, trade and educational policies and programs.”

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Andrew reports on renewable energy, clean technology and other issues and topics from posts abroad and here in the US.

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