Will renewable energy renew the global labor market? This may well happen…
In 2016, the global renewable energy sector employed 9.8 million people around the world, including 4 million in China, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) report, published in may 2017.
Over 2015, jobs in renewables only increased of 1.1%, as employment in solar heating and cooling and large hydropower has declined. However, compared to 2012, the increase is nearly 40%.
This increase is particularly due to the falling costs of renewable technologies as well as energy transitions in some countries, according to Adnan Z. Amin, Director-General of IRENA.
“In the last four years, for instance, the number of jobs in the solar and wind sectors combined has more than doubled”, according to Amin.
IRENA’s report shows that solar photovoltaic (PV) was the largest employer in 2016, with 3.1 million jobs — up 12 % from 2015 — mainly in China, the United States and India. Next come far behind biofuels (responsible for 1.7 million jobs), hydropower (1.5 million), while the wind sector represented 1.1 million jobs. Brazil, China, the United States and India also proved to be key bioenergy job markets, with biomass (723 000 jobs), and biogas (333 000 jobs).
Renewable energy jobs by technology
Falling costs and enabling policies explain this positive trend. China, Brazil, the United States, India, Japan and Germany accounted for most of the renewable energy jobs. The report finds that globally, 62% of jobs were to be found in Asia. In China, for example, almost 4 million (44.6% of the word total) people were working in renewables last year – an increase of 3.4% -, country in which 2.6 million people work in the oil and gas, according to the IRENA.
Renewable energy employment in selected countries (IRENA)
Brazil and the United States follow with 876 000 and 777 000 jobs in the renewable energy sector. Although a loss of 8000 jobs, France has 162 100 jobs, about half as much as Germany.
According to a report by several NGOs and trade unions, an ambitious policy aimed at meeting the objectives set out in the Paris Climate Accord could mobilize a public investment of 100 billion euros and generate 330 000 jobs in the renewable energy sector by 2030.
In the European Union, the number of jobs in these sectors decreased for the fourth consecutive year in 2014 (according to EurObserv’ER data), mainly due to the decline in investment resulting from the economic crisis.
According to the International Renewable Energy Agency, biomass will be the fastest developing sector by 2030. In Canada, biomass is the second renewable energy source, after hydropower.
Biomass sources have an excellent potential as an alternative to fossil fuels and electricity used, in Canada, for heating. Recognizing the potential of biomass, a group of industrial companies and cooperatives, from municipal sector, environmental, social and research organizations, join forces to promote this highly performing sector: Vision Biomasse Québec. Vision Biomasse’s targets for 2025 include the creation of 12 5000 jobs in the construction phase and the creation of 3 600 full-time jobs in the operation phase. For example, biogas and biomass sectors employ more than 95 000 people in Germany.
For the past two years, the energy sector has been experiencing a major evolution with the energy transition progress in France and around the world. Since 2014, companies have made major investments in renewable energies.
Benoît Hamon, a French politician, boasted the impact of renewable energies on employment: “This energy transition will generate many jobs. Where renewable energy is used, six times more jobs are made than with conventional or nuclear power generation”, added the former Minister for Social and Solidarity Economy.
The biogas sector was lagging behind until 2016 due to a lack of a sufficient incentive and stable policy for industrialists and operators. Since the beginning of 2017, the renewable energy sector has been growing in terms of projects and jobs. More actors are becoming competitive in terms of design, construction and operation of biogas sites, requiring strong skills.
According to an ADEME study, in 2014, the French methanisation sector had more than 2,000 direct jobs in France, nearly one third of which were operating and production sites. The French government has an ambitious target: to multiply this number by three by 2020. For ADEME researchers, the ecological and energy transition could create between 830 000 and 900 000 jobs by 2050.
“Although there is no data for total U.S. employment in biogas, E2 found that the American biogas energy industry announced 193 new jobs in 2015. In 2016, the American Biogas Council reported that over 2,100 biogas systems are currently in operation in the United States. In addition, the report suggested that more than 11,000 additional dairy/swine farms, wastewater treatment plants, and landfill gas projects could be effectively converted into biogas production facilities. The Council concluded that these new systems could support roughly 275,000 temporary construction jobs and 18,000 full-time operational positions.”
Amin went on to state that the potential for renewable jobs was significant. “Falling costs and enabling policies have steadily driven up investment and employment in renewable energy worldwide,” said Adnan Z. Amin.
Adnan Amin expects that the number of people working in the renewable energy sector could reach 24 million by 2030, more than offsetting fossil-fuel job losses and becoming a major economic driver around the world,” Mr. Amin added.