By - Jim Vess

Renewable energy jobs grow worldwide, but remain concentrated in a few countries

Energize Weekly, May 16, 2018

Renewable energy employment around the world grew by 5.3 percent in 2017 to 10.3 million direct and indirect jobs, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

The strongest growth was in the solar photovoltaic (PV) and bioenergy sectors. There was a slight drop in jobs in the wind energy industry.

Overall, there were 3.37 million jobs in solar PV followed by just more than 3 million in bioenergy. The wind energy sector employed 1.15 million people, and large hydropower projects had 1.51 million workers. Solar heating-cooling, small hydro and other types of renewable energy made up the rest.

“An increasing number of countries derive socio-economic benefits from renewable energy but employment remains highly concentrated in a handful of countries, with China, Brazil, the United States, India, Germany and Japan in the lead,” according to IRENA’s annual job review.

China had 43 percent of all renewable energy employment, with 66 percent of the solar PV jobs, 83 percent of the jobs in solar heating-cooling and 43 percent of wind jobs.

The solar PV market had a strong year with 29 percent increase in installations to 94 gigawatts (GW). China, India, United States and Japan have the biggest markets. Turkey, Germany, Australia and South Korea were also important markets.

More than 90 percent of the solar PV jobs were located in six countries—China, Japan, the U.S., India, Bangladesh and Malaysia.

In biofuels, Latin America is the location of about half of all the world’s jobs, while Southeast Asia accounted for 21 percent, North America 21 percent and Europe 10 percent.

Brazil has the largest liquid-biofuel workforce with 795,000 jobs. Colombia also has a significant biofuels workforce with about 190,800 jobs in 2017, although IRENA said it could not verify that those all represented full-time jobs.

Wind jobs are also highly concentrated, though not as much as solar PV jobs, with the top five countries having 76 percent of all jobs. Those countries are China, Germany, the U.S., India and the United Kingdom.

In overall energy jobs by country, China has nearly 3.9 million, the European Union 1.3 million, the U.S. 789,000 and India 432,000.

The United States experienced its first decline in the solar sector since 2010 with 9,800 jobs lost, a 3.8 percent drop. The bulk of the losses came in installation jobs, the result of a 22 percent reduction in new capacity additions, particularly of utility-scale plants.

“The contrast between 2016 and 2017 is skewed by the fact that installations in 2016 were driven higher by expectations that a 30 percent federal investment tax credit might expire,” the IRENA report said. “Policy uncertainties in states such as California, Massachusetts and Nevada also had an impact.”

U.S. wind industry added about 105,500 jobs in 2017, with 23,000 manufacturing jobs. U.S. ethanol production hit a record 60 billion liters in 2017, with direct and indirect employment estimated at 237,000 jobs in 2017, a 6.5 percent increase over 2016. Biodiesel employed about 62,000.

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