Renewable energy and jobs: a winning combination

The use of renewable energy is increasing and so are the employment rates.

The role of renewables in the global energy system keeps expanding with benefits for climate, planet’s ecosystem, and human health. Employment is another area that is more and more benefiting from this global transition.
In 2017, the renewable energy industry created globally 500,000 new jobs employing overall 10.3 million people, a growth of 5.3% from 2016. Recently, the EU Climate Action and Energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete declared: “We estimate that the renewables sector represented more than 1.4 million jobs in the EU in 2016 and that more than 300,000 out of these were in the wind sector. And this continues to rise.”

National and local governments are beginning to back the growth with initiatives and funds. For instance, the State of New York recently announced $15 million to support the development and training of clean energy workforce in the State University of New York campuses.

A global outlook

Once again, China, Brazil, the United States, India, Germany, and Japan confirmed themselves as leaders in the renewable energy employment with more than 70% of the jobs.

As in the past years, Asia was the region of the world where employment grew the most, accounting for 60% of the jobs with 43% of them in China. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) observes that “most of Asia’s dynamism is based on growing domestic deployment and strong manufacturing capabilities, supported by policies such as feed-in tariffs, auctions, preferential credit and land policies, and local content rules.”

Overall the solar photovoltaic sector was the one that created more employment: 3.4 million jobs, up 9% from 2016. In the United States for instance, despite a small decrease compared to 2016, the long-term employment trend continued to be positive with a solid growth of the workforce. The country saw an increase of the 168% in the past seven years, from roughly 93,000 to over 250,000 jobs. Furthermore, its solar industry currently employees twice as many people as the coal industry.

Africa, unfortunately, lags behind the global trend: the employment in the renewable energy industry is still small. However, as IRENA observes, the off-grid energy sector could offer a great opportunity for growth.

The future seems bright. As the global transition towards a sustainable energy system gains speed, IRENA predicts that with the right policies the industry’s total amount of jobs could increase from 10.3 million to 23.6 million in 2030 and 28.8 million in 2050.

EV production

It’s still difficult to fully understand how the EV production will influence the employment rates globally and nationally.

A 2014 report created by the European Climate Foundation predicted that the EV industry could generate between 501,000 and 1.1 million net additional jobs by 2030, and between 1.4 million and 2.3 million more jobs by 2050.

Bo Normark – Thematic Leader Smart Grids and Electric Storage at InnoEnergy and responsible for the InnoEnergy activities in the EU Battery Alliance Program – told us: “Batteries are going to transform three sectors: power, transport, and industry. We are changing the production system completely.” He also added: “It’s true that new technologies will require a smaller workforce: it’s easier to make an electric car than a fossil fuel powered car. However, I am optimistic. I don’t think we will lose many jobs as we need to look at the bigger picture. We need to look at the transformation of the transport sector and at the same time at the transformation of the whole power sector. It will be a symbiotic transition. The more we support new technologies, the more we will have a high penetration of renewables, and the more the employment market will grow.”