With worldwide oil supply disruptions and spiking gas prices, there’s never been a better time to hitch your wagon to renewable energy. According to a new report, worldwide employment in renewable energy reached 12.7 million last year, a jump of 700,000 new jobs in one year, despite the lingering effects of COVID-19 and the growing energy crisis.
The report identifies domestic market size as a major factor influencing employment generation in renewables, along with labor and other costs. It also found solar energy to be the fastest-growing sector. In 2021 it provided 4.3 million jobs, more than a third of the current global workforce in renewable energy.
The new report was published by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) in collaboration with the International Labour Organization (ILO) during the Global Clean Energy Action Forum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Climate Change Spurs Demand for Local Energy Production
With rising concerns about climate change, COVID-19 recovery, recession, and supply chain disruption, national interest is growing in localizing supply chains and creating jobs at home. The report describes how strong domestic markets are vital to anchoring a drive toward clean energy industrialization. Developing renewable technology export capabilities is also dependent on this, it adds.
Francesco La Camera, IRENA’s Director-General, said: “In the face of numerous challenges, renewable energy jobs remain resilient and have been proven to be a reliable job creation engine. My advice to governments around the world is to pursue industrial policies that encourage the expansion of decent renewable jobs at home. Spurring a domestic value chain will not only create business opportunities and new jobs for people and local communities. It also bolsters supply chain reliability and contributes to more energy security overall.”
China Leads in Renewable Energy Jobs, While U.S. Trails Behind
The report shows that an increasing number of countries are creating jobs in renewables. Almost two-thirds of all these jobs are in Asia. China alone accounts for 42 percent of the global total, followed by the E.U. and Brazil with ten percent each, and the USA and India with seven percent each.
ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder, said: “Beyond the numbers, there is a growing focus on the quality of jobs and the conditions of work in renewable energies, to ensure decent and productive employment. The increasing share of female employment suggests that dedicated policies and training can significantly enhance the participation of women in renewable energy occupations, inclusion and ultimately, achieve a just transition for all. I encourage governments, workers’ and employers’ organizations to remain firmly committed to a sustainable energy transition, which is indispensable for the future of work.”
The report highlights some notable regional and national developments. These include Southeast Asian countries becoming major solar photovoltaic (P.V.) manufacturing hubs and biofuel producers. China is the pre-eminent manufacturer and installer of solar P.V. panels and is creating a growing number of jobs in offshore wind. India added more than 10 Gigawatts of solar P.V., generating many installation jobs, but remains heavily dependent on imported panels.
Europe now accounts for about 40 percent of the world’s wind manufacturing output and is the most important exporter of wind power equipment; it is trying to reconstitute its solar P.V. manufacturing industry. Africa’s role is still limited, but the report points out that there are growing job opportunities in decentralized renewables, especially in supporting local commerce, agriculture, and other economic activities.
In the Americas, Mexico is the leading supplier of wind turbine blades. Brazil remains the leading employer in biofuels but is also adding many jobs in wind and solar P.V. installations. The United States is beginning to build a domestic industrial base for the budding offshore wind sector.
U.S. Climate Bill Jump Starts Clean Energy Projects
While the U.S. renewable energy sector lags behind major Asian and European countries, there is hope that President Biden’s passage of a comprehensive climate bill will spur new industry investment.
Already, there are signs that investment in renewables domestically is picking up. For example, Toyota plans to invest $2.5 billion to produce electric car batteries in North Carolina. And Piedmont Lithium announced it would build a plant in Tennessee to process lithium, a vital resource needed for battery production.
However, major projects like those announced take time to build. It remains to be seen how long it will take to reduce dependence on foreign imports to sustain renewable technologies here at home.
Significant Growth, But More Work to Do
The report highlights that the expansion of renewable energy is still in its infancy. The industry needs support from holistic policy packages, including training for workers to ensure decent, high-quality, diverse, and high-paying jobs in pursuit of a transition to a genuinely renewable energy economy.
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Andrew holds a Masters of Science in Economics from the University of Texas at Dallas and a Bachelors of Science in Electrical Engineering from Texas A&M University. He has worked as a financial analyst and accountant in many aspects of the financial world.
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