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Renewable energy jobs pass 10 million mark in 2017 – new IRENA report finds

The renewable energy industry created more than 500 000 new jobs globally in 2017, a 5.3 percent increase from 2016 surpassing the 10 million figure cumulatively for the first time, according to the latest figures released by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).
“Renewable energy has become a pillar of low-carbon economic growth for governments all over the world, a fact reflected by the growing number of jobs created in the sector,” said Adnan Z. Amin, Director-General of IRENA

Global renewable energy employment by technology 2017 (graphic courtesy IRENA).

According to the fifth edition of Renewable Energy and Jobs – Annual Review, launched May 8 at IRENA’s 15th Council in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE), the total number of people employed in the sector, including large hydropower, now stands at 10.3 million globally, surpassing the 10 million figure for the first time.

China, Brazil, the United States, India, Germany and Japan remain the world’s largest renewable energy employers, representing more than 70 percent of all industry jobs globally. Although growing numbers of countries are reaping the socio-economic benefits of renewables, the bulk of manufacturing takes place in relatively few countries and domestic markets vary enormously in size. Sixty percent of all renewable energy jobs are found in Asia.

The data also underscores an increasingly regionalised picture, highlighting that in countries where attractive policies exist, the economic, social and environmental benefits of renewable energy are most evident. Fundamentally, this data supports our analysis that decarbonisation of the global energy system can grow the global economy and create up to 28 million jobs in the sector by 2050,  said Adnan Z. Amin, Director-General of IRENA.

Solar PV largest renewable employer

The solar PV industry remains the largest employer of all renewable energy technologies, accounting for close to 3.4 million jobs, up almost 9 percent from 2016 following a record 94 GW of installations in 2017. China was estimated to account for two-thirds of PV jobs – equivalent to 2.2 million – representing an expansion of 13 percent over the previous year.

Despite a slight dip in Japan and the United States, the two countries followed China as the largest markets for solar PV employment in the world. India and Bangladesh complete a top five that accounts for around 90 percent of global solar PV jobs.

Over 3 million employed in the bioenergy sector

The global bioenergy sector – liquid biofuels, solid biomass and biogas – is the second largest employer. After two years of decline, the sector added 266 000 jobs to reach 3.05 million jobs passing the 3 million mark for the first time ever.

Almost two-thirds of these jobs are found in liquid biofuels in which worldwide employment is estimated at 1.93 million making it the second largest renewable employer on its own. Most of these jobs are generated in the agricultural value chain in planting and harvesting of feedstock whereas the construction of fuel-processing facilities and O&M of existing plants employ fewer people.

Liquid biofuels are the second largest renewable employer 2017 according to IRENA. Latin America with Brazil and Colombia account for half the jobs in liquid biofuels worldwide, whereas South East Asia accounts for 21 percent, North America for 16 percent and Europe for 10 percent respectively (graphic courtesy IRENA).

The report also notes that changes in biofuels employment do not necessarily equate to net job gains or losses. Oil palm, soybean and similar types of feedstock are used for a range of agricultural and commercial purposes in addition to the energy sector, and the composition of end-user demand is relatively fluid.

Wind power eased off 2017

According to the report, employment in the wind industry contracted slightly last year to 1.15 million worldwide. While wind jobs are found in a relatively small number of countries, the degree of concentration is lower than in the solar PV sector.

China accounts for 44 percent of global wind employment, followed by Europe and North America with 30 and 10 percent, respectively. Half of the top ten countries with the largest installed capacity of wind power in the world are European.

The energy transformation is one of improving economic opportunity and a rise in social wellbeing as countries implement supportive policies and attractive regulatory frameworks to fuel industrial growth and sustainable job creation. By providing policymakers with this level of detail about the composition of renewable energy employment and skills requirements, countries can make informed decisions on several important national objectives, from education and training to industrial policies and labour market regulations. Such considerations will support a fair and equitable transition to a renewables-based energy system, said Dr Rabia Ferroukhi, Head of IRENA’s Policy Unit and Deputy Director of Knowledge, Policy, and Finance.

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