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Renewable energy jobs continue growth 2019 to 11.5 million worldwide – IRENA

Renewable energy continues to bring socio-economic benefits by creating numerous jobs worldwide, according to the latest figures released by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). The seventh edition of Renewable Energy and Jobs – Annual Review shows that jobs in the sector reached 11.5 million globally in 2019, up around 500 000 on 2018's 11 million jobs, led by solar PV with some 3.8 million jobs, or a third of the total.

Global renewable energy employment by technology 2012-2019. For hydropower, a revised methodology led to revisions of job estimates, numbers shown in this figure reflect those reported in past editions of the Annual Review. Note that a.”Bioenergy” includes liquid biofuels, solid biomass, and biogas whereas b. “Others” include geothermal energy, concentrated solar power, heat pumps (ground-based), municipal and industrial waste, and ocean energy (source and graphic courtesy IRENA).

IRENA’s latest “Renewable Energy and Jobs – Annual Review“, the seventh edition, confirms the long-term growth trend. However, the Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE) based agency cautions that strong policy action is essential to ensure continued employment expansion in the coronavirus (COVID-19) era.

Adopting renewables creates jobs and boosts local income in both developed and developing energy markets. While today we see a handful of countries in the lead, each country can harness its renewable potential, take steps to leverage local capabilities for industrial development and train its workers, said IRENA’s Director-General Francesco La Camera.

Bioenergy sees the strongest year-on-year growth

The report shows that in 2019, sixty-three percent of all renewables jobs were recorded in Asia, confirming the region’s status as a market leader.

While the solar energy sector – solar PV, solar heat and cooling, and Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) – continue to lead with just over 4.6 million jobs, the bioenergy sector – liquid biofuels, solid biomass, biogas, and municipal and industrial waste –  comes in as a good second with just over 3.62 million jobs.

The bioenergy sector also saw the largest increase during 2019 – up 395 000 jobs in 2018 while the solar sector saw an increase of 168 000 jobs compared to 2018. Within the solar and bioenergy sectors, solar PV dominates with 3.75 million jobs in 2019, whereas liquid biofuels recorded just over 2.47 million jobs.

Renewable energy employment in 2019 by technology. Note “Others” include jobs not broken down into individual technologies (source and graphic courtesy IRENA).

The report notes that the top ten liquid biofuel countries account for 90 percent of the jobs. Many of these liquid biofuel jobs are in the agricultural supply chain with labour-intensive operations, particularly in countries like Brazil where over one-third of liquid biofuel jobs were found in 2019, along with Indonesia, the United States, Colombia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand.

Other large employers in the renewables sector are the hydropower and wind industries, with close to 2 million and 1.2 million jobs, respectively.

Nonetheless, some areas saw a reduction of jobs recorded in 2019 compared to 2018 – hydropower, solid biomass, and CSP all recorded fewer jobs in 2019 than in 2018.

More inclusive and better gender balance

Renewables jobs have shown more inclusion and a better gender balance than fossil fuels. The report highlights that women held 32 percent of total renewables jobs, as opposed to 21 percent in the fossil fuel sectors.

Although precise estimates remain scarce and absolute numbers are small for now, off-grid renewables are creating growing employment, led by solar technology.

Decentralised renewable energy can also propel productive uses in rural areas. This job multiplier effect can be seen in farming and food processing, healthcare, communications, and local commerce, the report reveals.

Policy and training support essential

Comprehensive policies, led by education and training measures, labour market interventions, and industrial policies that support the leveraging of local capacities, are essential for sustaining the renewables job expansion.

The 2020 edition of the Annual Review highlights promising initiatives to support the education and training of workers. Such efforts revolve around vocational training, curricula-building, teacher training, the use of information and communications technology, promotion of innovative public-private partnerships (PPP), and recruitment of under-represented groups such as women.

According to IRENA, policymakers must also prioritise reskilling for fossil fuel sector workers who have lost or are at risk of losing their livelihoods. Many have considerable skills and expertise to contribute to a reoriented, clean energy industry.

Liquid biofuels employment 2019. The top ten countries account for 90 percent of the jobs (graphic courtesy IRENA).

To build the skills base for the transition from fossil fuels to renewables, countries will need more vocational training, stronger curricula, more teacher training, and expanded use of information and communications technology for remote learning. The COVID-19 pandemic has, IRENA says, underlined the need for renewables to meet social, economic, and environmental needs.

IRENA’s recently-released Post-COVID Recovery Agenda found that an ambitious stimulus programme could create up to 5.5 million more jobs over the next three years than a business-as-usual approach.

Such an initiative would also allow the world to stay on track for creating the 42 million renewables jobs that the agency’s Global Renewables Outlook projects for 2050.

The world has seen encouraging growth in renewables jobs. But it can bring about much larger employment by adopting a comprehensive policy framework that drives the energy transition. Never has the importance of such a push been clearer than at this momentous juncture. Even as the world is still dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, humanity receives near-daily reminders of what lies in store if we fail to address the gathering climate disruptions, IRENA said.

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