RENEWABLE ENERGY AND JOBS
Annual Review 2020 The renewable energy sector employed at least 11.5 million people, directly and indirectly, in 2019.1 Renewable energy employment has continued to grow worldwide since 2012, when the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) began to assess it on an annual basis.The solar photovoltaic (PV), bioenergy, hydropower and wind power industries have been the biggest employers. The bulk of global jobs relate to modern energy use, but the 2019 estimate includes jobs tied to the use of decentralised solar PV to expand energy access in parts of Sub-Saharan Africa and in South Asia. renewable energy employment estimates since 2012.2 The majority of these jobs are still held by men. The share of women in the renewable energy workforce is about 32%, compared to 22% in the energy sector overall.
GLOBAL RENEWABLE ENERGY EMPLOYMENT BY TECHNOLOGY, 2012-2019
This year’s edition of the Annual Review series highlights the latest employment trends
by technology, including jobs in decentralised applications of renewable energy for improved energy access. The report then offers insights for selected regions and countries. It also includes a feature highlighting the importance of education and training policies to avoid skills shortages as renewable energy continues to expand. The report concludes with observations on the impacts of the crisis triggered by the outbreak of COVID-19 and a sketch of the way
forward to ensure a successful energy transition.
RENEWABLE ENERGY EMPLOYMENT BY TECHNOLOGY
This section presents estimates for employment in solar PV, liquid biofuels, wind, solar heating and cooling, and hydropower. Less information is available for other technologies such as biogas, geothermal energy and ground-based heat pumps, concentrated solar power (CSP), waste-to-energy and ocean or wave energy. These other technologies also employ fewer people.
Globally, the solar PV industry installed 97 gigawatts (GW) of capacity during 2019, slightly less than the 100 GW installed in 2018. More than half, some 55 GW, was added in Asian countries (principally China, India, Japan and Viet Nam); Europe installed 19 GW, the United States another 9 GW and Australia close to 6 GW.
Global biofuels production increased 5% in 2019, principally driven by a 13% expansion of biodiesel (with Indonesia overtaking the United States and Brazil to become the largest national producer), while ethanol production inched up by 2%. Worldwide employment in biofuels was estimated at 2.5 million in 2019.5 The bulk of these jobs were in the agriculture sector, planting and then harvesting feedstock of various types. Processing the feedstock
into fuels requires far fewer people than supplying the feedstock, but processing jobs generally require higher technical skills and offer better pay.
With close to 839 000 jobs, Brazil has the world’s largest liquid biofuels workforce. The United States is the leading biofuels producer, but its lower labour intensity translates to about 297 000 jobs. Biofuels employment in the European Union was estimated at about 239 000 jobs in 2018, the most recent year for which data are available.
Given its deployment over many decades, hydropower is still the largest source of renewable electricity in the world, accounting for 44.6% of the total installed renewable energy capacity in 2019. China, Brazil, the United States and Canada were the top countries that year. However,
global net additions of capacity in 2019 were the lowest in the last 17 years and 43% below the value in 2018.
SOLAR HEATING AND COOLING
The global solar heating and cooling market was led by China – followed by Turkey, India, Brazil and the United States. While installations declined in China and the United States, markets in India and Brazil saw growth in 2019. IRENA’s estimates indicate that global employment in the sector stood at 823 300 jobs. The top five countries account for 93% of all jobs. Of the top ten, four (China, India, Turkey and Jordan) are from Asia and three (the United Kingdom, Germany and Spain) from Europe. Asia accounts for 88% of the world total, some
727 000 jobs. With more than 70% of global installed capacity and a strong position in export markets, China remains the dominant employer in solar heating and cooling. Estimates for the country suggest that the workforce held steady at 670 000 in 2019.
DECENTRALISED RENEWABLE ENERGY EMPLOYMENT
Extraordinary growth potential exists for decentralised applications of renewable energy, especially in the least-developed countries, where only 52% of the overall population had access to electricity in 2018. In some countries, rural access rates are well below 10%.
At the same time, even before the COVID-19 crisis unemployment rates in these rural communities were high and rising, with women and youth the most affected.
RENEWABLE ENERGY EMPLOYMENT IN SELECTED COUNTRIES
This section presents key country-level trends and observations. It first discusses a number of leading countries – China, Brazil, the United States, India and members of the European Union and then presents information on additional countries by region. Overall, the bulk of renewable energy employment is in Asian countries, which accounted for 63% of jobs in 2019.
BEYOND THE NUMBERS
In our societies, a job is how the vast majority of working people secure an income for themselves and their families. Beyond ensuring an adequate number of jobs, labour representation is often essential to ensuring good jobs that will provide an adequate
wage or salary in a safe and productive workplace.
THE IMPACTS OF COVID-19 AND THE WAY FORWARD
The onset of the COVID-19 crisis upended economic trends and dynamics around the world, including in the energy sector. To date, renewable energy as a whole has fared better than fossil fuels. Nonetheless, renewables have been affected by temporary disruptions in the
supply of equipment, components or raw materials, and more recently by demand-side impacts. To maximise benefits and limit adjustment costs, governments must keep in mind the underlying drivers of the energy transition (investment, trade, fiscal policy, and indirect and induced effects of the transition across the economy) and put in place policies enabling the accelerated deployment of renewables. They must also be alert to potentially significant misalignments between job gains and losses in the transition (IRENA, 2019c). Such misalignments may take any of several forms:
1.Temporal. The creation of new jobs does not necessarily take place on the same time scale as
the loss of employment.
2.Spatial. New jobs are not necessarily being created in the same locations – communities,
regions or countries – where losses occur.
3.Sectoral. Job gains and losses may affect different sectors of the economy, given different
supply-chain structures and diverging sets of inputs between rising and declining industries.
4.Educational. The skills associated with vanishing jobs do not always match those required by
Policies to accelerate the uptake of renewables must go hand in hand with efforts to leverage and enhance local capabilities through industrial policies, building supply chains and developing the available pool of skilled labour, without which the energy transition
cannot maximise socio-economic benefits. Therefore, educational and training programmes, labour market measures and social protection policies are essential to match the demand for jobs and skills with supply of the same, to retrain fossil fuel workers and to preserve social equity.
Click to download: