Renewable energy created 11.5 million jobs around the world in 2019, up from 11 million in 2018, according to the latest in a series of annual reviews released this week by the International Renewable Energy Agency.
Nearly two-thirds of the employment—63%—was located in Asia, IRENA reports, with 38% in China, and one-third of the jobs were in photovoltaic solar. IRENA’s count did not include job creation in energy efficiency.
“Renewable energy, now predominant in new electric power capacity, has proven especially flexible, cost-effective, and resilient in the face of the 2020 health and economic crisis,” IRENA Director-General Francesco La Camera states in the report, adding that the agency’s post-COVID recovery agenda would produce 5.5 million new jobs per year over three years and bring the industry-wide total to nearly 30 million by 2030.
In the last decade, he adds, photovoltaic solar has gone from a niche segment to a sector that employs 3.8 million people world-wide. “Growing shares of those jobs are off-grid, supporting productive use in farming, food processing, and health care in previously remote, isolated, energy-poor communities,” La Camera writes. The various forms of bioenergy employ 3.6 million, largely in rural feedstock production. Hydropower created nearly two million jobs, though IRENA says its growth is slowing. The global wind industry employed 1.2 million.
With only 32% of jobs held by women, renewables companies still have a better gender balance than the fossil industries, which stand at 22%, La Camera adds. “Much remains to be done to even the playing field for women and tap into their talents and ideas,” he says.
The report points to the “extraordinary growth potential” in decentralized renewable energy (DRE) deployment, especially in the world’s least-developed countries. It indicates that solar in homes and businesses, green mini-grids, and stand-alone equipment like solar pumps are already “generating significant economic opportunity”, with potential to provide “decent work” while meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goal of universal electrification by 2030. It cites India, Kenya, and Nigeria as countries where local DRE companies “are already a large contributor to direct and indirect employment”, with major growth potential over the next few years.
“DRE solutions have the potential to create up to five times more jobs in local communities than direct, formal DRE employment,” the agency states. “In economies still dominated by agriculture, this is an important linkage, especially as food insecurity is increasing with the disruption of supply chains caused by global events.”
IRENA also underscores the need for training to meet the meteoric growth in the industry’s immediate future. “Building the skills base necessary to support the ongoing global energy transition from fossil fuels to renewables requires more vocational training, stronger curricula, more teacher training, and expanded use of information and communications technology for remote learning,” it states.