Half a million renewable energy jobs were created in 2019, IRENA reveals

Some 498,000 full-time equivalent roles were created in the global renewable energy sector during 2019, new analysis from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) has revealed - with particular growth recorded in the biofuels industry.

Job growth in the wind and solar sectors was found to be slower than for bioenergy

Job growth in the wind and solar sectors was found to be slower than for bioenergy

The Agency’s latest annual review of renewable energy and jobs found that 11.5 million people globally were employed in this space at the end of 2019, up from 11 million at the end of 2018. This figure accounts for those employed both directly and indirectly, for example in supply chains.

Of these workers, 63% were based in Asia, largely due to the continent’s booming solar market. Indeed, solar accounted for one-third of the total global renewable energy workforce.

The biggest increase in jobs was recorded in the bioenergy space, as demand grew in markets across South America and Asia. Some 3.6 million people were employed in this sector at the end of 2019, up from 3.2 million at the end of 2018. As a result, global biodiesel production increased 13% year-on-year. Job growth did plateau, however, in the hydropower sector.

Looking to the future, the review highlights the importance of collecting better data on small, community-led, off-grid renewable projects, which it claims can “propel productive energy uses in rural areas”, creating a “job multiplier effect”. With this data, governments and bodies like IRENA can better support small-scale generators.

It also makes a call for improved action from policymakers and industry to build the skills base necessary for the energy transition – a need which is particularly salient amid Covid-19-related job losses in the fossil fuel sector. Expanding vocational training, creating stronger curricula, widening teacher training initiatives and rolling out remote learning technologies are all recommended.

On balance, IRENA does believe that the pandemic’s impact on the energy sector can be positive for both the energy transition and the creation of a more inclusive, diverse, resilient industry. Covid-19 has “reinforced the importance of strong policy frameworks for renewables to achieve social, economic and environmental objectives,” the Agency said in a statement. “The need to chart a different course is undeniable, as are the benefits to be reaped,” it added.

“Adopting renewables creates jobs and boosts local income in both developed and developing energy markets,” IRENA’s Director-General Francesco La Camera said.

“While today we see a handful of countries in the lead, each country can harness its renewable potential, take steps to leverage local capabilities for industrial development, and train its workers.”

IRENA maintains that 42 million people will need to be employed in the renewable energy sector, directly and indirectly, if the world is to align with the Paris Agreement.

Policy recommendations

Like many non-governmental organisations in the green economy, IRENA has produced a string of policy and industry recommendations designed to bring about a green economic recovery from the pandemic.

The Agency would like to see governments and corporates providing increased funding to energy efficiency, energy storage and flexible technologies as part of their recovery plans rather than making blanket investments in new low-carbon generation.

Should stronger Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to the Paris Agreement be submitted by the deadline and should nations increase investment in line with these climate commitments in the short term, some 5.5 million jobs could be created by the end of 2023 and a further 11.5 million by the end of 2030, according to IRENA calculations.

All nations taking part in COP26 are due to submit updated NDCs by the new year. Boris Johnson this month confirmed that the UK will host a “launchpad” event for the delayed summit, where nations which submit new targets ahead of the deadline will be given a platform to highlight them and provide further details.

Sarah George



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