- IRENA counts 12 million renewable energy jobs existed in the world in 2020
- Solar PV employed the largest chunk of 4 million, followed by bioenergy, hydropower and wind technologies
- China accounted for 39% renewable energy jobs in 2020, and 58% of solar PV jobs
- Need to ensure equal opportunities for all, and efforts to be made to retain workers from fossil fuel industries
- Ambitious policies and removal of structural barriers must to ensure just and sustainable energy transition for the world
- By 2050, renewable energy jobs will account for 43 million out of 122 million estimated energy sector jobs in the world
The 8th edition of Renewable Energy and Jobs—Annual Review 2021 report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and International Labour Organization (ILO) counts renewable energy sector to have employed 12 million people, directly or indirectly, in 2020. With 3.98 million jobs, solar PV was the largest employer among renewables.
Bioenergy followed next with 3.52 million jobs and hydropower with 2.18 million jobs globally. Wind energy’s numbers grew from previous year to 1.25 million in 2020.
The report writers point out that employment in 2020 was shaped by delays due to COVID-19 impact and later by surges in activity. Off-grid solar lighting market did suffer in 2020, but the report writers believe companies were able to limit job losses.
China was the market leader with 39% renewable energy jobs globally in 2020, followed by Brazil, India and the US among others. China also accounted for about 58% of PV jobs with 2.3 million in 2020. Japan added less capacity in 2020 than in 2019; IRENA estimates that jobs there fell to 220,000 in 2020, from 241,000 in the previous year. Employment in all solar technologies in the United States dropped 6.7% in 2020, from 240, 000 to about 231,000 workers. India’s on-grid solar employment is believed to have 93,900 jobs plus 69,600 in the off-grid segment, resulting in a total of 163,500 jobs. PV employment in Europe reached 239,000 in 2020, of which the bulk, 194,000 were EU members states.
According to IRENA, more solar PV jobs were created in markets such as Vietnam and Malaysia. And Solar jobs have been expanding in Africa as well including in Nigeria, Togo and South Africa.
One of the significant issues highlighted by the report relates to the renewable energy market ensuring equal opportunities for both women and men, as well as youth, minorities and marginalized groups. The report argues that education and skills training, including efforts to retain workers from fossil fuel industries will be essential to building the workforce of the future as the report claims ‘more jobs will be gained by the energy transition than lost’.
At the same time, it is not creating jobs alone but creating job quality in terms of remuneration, working conditions and workplace rights that would matter to attract talent to this industry.
COVID-19 jolted the world in more than one way. Countries have realized the dangers of depending on a centralized supply chain during such bizarre events. Hence, there is and should be a growing focus on creating domestic manufacturing and supply chains leveraging which can help create jobs in practically every country as they go about ensuring energy transition.
Renewable energy jobs are set to grow to count 38 million by 2030. Looking further ahead, the numbers are set to grow further to an estimated 43 million by 2050 out of 122 million energy sector jobs under 1.5ºC pathway. Of the 43 million, 33% will be in construction and installation, 26% in biofuel supply, 21% in operation and maintenance and 20% in manufacturing.
Among renewables, solar PV will continue to lead with 19.9 million jobs in 2050, followed by 13.7 million in bioenergy, 5.5 million in wind sector and 3.7 million in hydropower.
For solar PV, almost 3.4 million or 85% jobs were concentrated in top 10 nations, and thanks to China, Asian nations accounted for 79.4% jobs in this segment.
With the growth of renewables as solar PV and wind energy, authors expect more jobs growing in technologies as green hydrogen and battery storage. For lithium-ion storage for automotive and stationary storage the expected job growth is 10 million by 2030, and for green hydrogen the numbers are expected to increase about 2 million from 2030 and 2050.
The expected 43 million number is a million higher than 42 million IRENA estimated for renewables to account for in 2050 in its Global Renewables Outlook-Energy Transformation 2050 report (see IRENA Expects 42 Million RE Jobs By 2050 In New Report).
“The potential for renewable energies to generate decent work is a clear indication that we do not have to choose between environmental sustainability on the one hand, and employment creation on the other. The two can go hand-in-hand,” said ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder.
Challenges and opportunities
These estimates offered by IRENA and ILO depend on ‘ambitious policies’ to drive energy transition. According to the report, “In addition to deployment, enabling, and integrating policies for the sector itself, there is a need to overcome structural barriers in the wider economy and minimize potential misalignments between job losses and gains during the transition.”
The IRENA and ILO report is available for free viewing on IRENA’s website.