10 things you probably didn’t know about green energy jobs

With new figures from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) revealing that employment in the renewables industry rose by 5% over the past 12 months, to pass 8.1 million, edie dissects the data to bring you 10 fascinating facts about clean energy employment.

According to the Renewable Energy and Jobs – Annual Review 2016 report, released today (25 May) by the UN-backed IRENA, the total number of renewable energy jobs worldwide rose in 2015, while jobs in the broader energy sector fell. (Scroll down for 10 more facts).

“The continued job growth in the renewable energy sector is significant because it stands in contrast to trends across the energy sector,” explained IRENA’s director-general Adnan Z. Amin. “This increase is being driven by declining renewable energy technology costs and enabling policy frameworks. We expect this trend to continue as the business case for renewables strengthens and as countries move to achieve their climate targets agreed in Paris.”

The report notes that enabling political landscapes were key factors in the boost in employment, with national and state auctions in India and Brazil, along with favourable government drives in Asia, all contributing to sharp increases in employment uptake.

With IRENA previously estimating that doubling the percentage of renewables in the global energy mix would result in employment levels reaching 24 million by 2030 – and having previously inspected IRENA’s figures on renewable capacity – edie has analysed the current market trends to bring you 10 takeaway statistics from the renewables industry…

1) Four of the top 10 countries for green job creation are found in Asia

As with most stories regarding growth in renewables, the facts start in Asia. Spearheaded by the world’s largest carbon emitter, the continent has embraced the messages and goals established by the recent Paris Agreement.

According to IRENA statistics, China (more on them in a moment) are leading the employment sector in Asia, while India, which employs 416,000 people in the sector, Japan, which boasts 388,000 strong renewables workforce, and Bangladesh all make the top ten, with the continent accounting for 60% of employment in total.

Bangladesh, which is leading the charge for solar home system installations, has seen a huge boost in manufacturing jobs bringing its total renewables employment to 141,000, which is more than the UK (more on them later).

2) China employs almost one million more people in renewables than oil and gas

China continues to turn any bad press associated to its unenviable crowning as the carbon emitting king into positive momentum. After consolidating its position as the leading installer of solar power, China has introduced plans to reduce emissions further by postponing the developments of 200 coal-fired power plants – both operational and planned – until at least 2018.

The inactivity of the 200 plants, which were expected to generate more than 105GW in power, has captured China’s shift to low-carbon resources, so much so that the country now employs more people in its renewables sector compared to the more traditional energy generating industries.

IRENA figures revealed that employment in the renewables sector in China has reached 3.5 million, exceeding the 2.6 million employed in the country’s oil and gas sector.

3) Wind energy employment in the US rose by 21% in the past year

Having spoken about the world’s largest emitter, it’s only fair to talk about the only contender to that crown. With the huge strides that China is making to reduce emissions, the US – backed by Obama’s Clean Power Plan – has seen employment in its wind sector rise.

While global employment in this sector increased by 5%, the US has seen new capacity additions grow by two-thirds, with the sector now employing 88,000 people. In comparison, the EU – even with its record breaking year for UK wind generation – added an extra 10,000 jobs to the sector, equivalent to a 4% rise.

4) Germany employs roughly the same amount of renewable energy workers as the UK, Italy and France combined

Speaking of the EU, IRENA also delved into the biggest players, revealing that Italy, France and the UK are all making strides and leading the way on the continent. But all European countries are still staggering behind Germany and its “energiewende” transition.

Along with the country’s second largest utility company RWE unveiling a $42bn renewables branch, Germany has continued to promote and support the renewables sector. Employing 355,000 people, Germany boasts a renewable sector almost the same size as France, Italy and the UK combined.

5) The UK ranks 9th globally for green energy employment

While the UK casts envious glances over to Bangladesh, it can sit comfortably with the fact that it has sneaked into the top 10 in regards to global employment. Despite being just a third of the size of Germany’s workforce, the UK has continued to establish a balanced, but slightly complex, renewables sector.

Even with damaging policies and cuts to feed-in tariffs (more on them later), the UK currently employs around 112,000 renewables workers and with a thriving wind sector that has just added a £2.6bn project to its portfolio, this number could rise in line with IRENA’s 2030 predications.

These figures differ slightly from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which accounts for full-time equivalent workers, which suggests that the UK green economy generated £46.2bn turnover through the efforts of 238,500 workers in 2014.

6) Solar PV is the biggest renewables market for employment

The tumbling costs of solar have been driving installations and creating more jobs in the process. From floating solar, to Mickey Mouse shaped farms, the adaptability of solar as an energy source has strengthened its position as the number one source of jobs in the renewables market.

With Ikea now boarding the solar-powered bandwagon, global employment in the solar photovoltaics sector – separate from solar heating and cooling – increased by 11% last year.  

As Morocco continues to develop the world’s largest solar plant – and green groups calling on new London Mayor Sadiq Khan to ignite a solar revolution – the 2.8 million workers could soon be joined by other employees.

7) Japan’s solar energy workforce has surged by more than a quarter

Back in Asia, and with the aid of an incentivised feed-in tariff (FiT) policy, Japan increased its solar PV workforce by a staggering 28% in 2014 – the last available year of data.

While the growth – which allowed the workforce to reach 377,100 in 2014 – has surged, recent cuts to the previously incentivised FiTs alongside a predicted decline in installations, could see jobs numbers stagnate. With IRENA also warning of challenges surrounding grid connections and availability of land and finance, this surge may end up being a flash in the pan for Japan.

8) Biofuel employment has tumbled by 6%

The use of biofuel as a low-carbon source continues to irk some green campaigners, but with ExxonMobil exploring its potential, biofuel remains a valuable part of the renewables jigsaw.

With the aviation and shipping industry frantically exploring ways to green their fleets by using biofuel, it is surprising to see employment in this sector fall by 6% to 1.7 million. IRENA states that this reduction is due to the increased mechanisation of biofuel manufacturing techniques – enabling ICT manufacturing techniques could cut EU emissions by 1.5Gt – while some countries have simply lowered production.

9) Indonesia’s biofuel industry has effectively collapsed

One such country that has dramatically lowered biofuel production is Indonesia. The country’s palm oil-based biodiesel market had surged dramatically over the last nine years, but contentious issues surrounding palm oil saw the market collapse in 2015.

Biofuel production has dropped by more than 50% in the last year with bio-refinery utilisation also struggling. The result has seen Indonesia’s biofuel workforce crash by more than 110,000 down to 94,800 for 2015.

10) Vietnam is the 6th largest employer for hydropower jobs

Vietnam is used to cropping-up in old war stories and decisions on Non la hats, but amidst a well-versed history, the country is teeming with hydropower potential.

With the International Hydropower Association estimating that the country could provide 35GW of hydropower capacity, Vietnam has seen its hydropower sector swell to provide more than a third of its electricity needs.

With more than 500 projects expected to be operational by 2017, Vietnam currently accounts for 2% of the global hydropower workforce. China, which remains the largest producer of jobs in this sector, has seen its dominance fall, currently providing 34% of global hydropower jobs compared to 42% in 2013.

Matt Mace

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