October 30, 2021

Renewable Energy Industry Now Employs 12 Million Worldwide

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The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) has been reporting on renewable energy jobs since 2013. One of the main considerations in creating a low-carbon economy is creating job opportunities, in addition to reducing emissions and increasing energy efficiency. The agency’s report – Renewable Energy and Jobs Annual Review 2021, was created in collaboration with the International Labour Organization.

IRENA’s first annual review estimated there were 7.3 million renewable energy jobs in 2012. Today, the solar photovoltaic market alone employs about 4 million, while wind energy accounts for 1.25 million jobs (including operations and maintenance personnel and those who work to support offshore installations).

In 2020, renewable energy employment reached 12 million worldwide. That is a half million more than in 2019.


Impact of COVID-19

Solar and wind jobs maintained their growth trends amidst the global pandemic. However, the report noted a decrease in liquid biofuels employment, from 2.5 million to 2.4 million, as demand dropped and the price of conventional transport fuels fell slightly. Adverse policy changes were a factor as well. Additionally, there was a drop in off-grid solar lighting sales.

According to the most current numbers, the precise breakdown of employment vs. renewable energy sector is as follows:

  • Solar Photovoltaic: 4 million
  • Liquid Biofuels: 2.4 million
  • Hydropower: 2.2 million
  • Wind Energy: 1.3 million
  • Solar Heating/Cooling: 819,000
  • Solid Biomass: 765,000
  • Biogas: 339,000
  • Geothermal Energy: 96,000
  • Municipal and Industrial Waste: 39,000
  • Concentrated Solar Thermal Power: 32,000


Renewable Energy Employment by Country

When it comes to renewable energy jobs, China leads the way with a 39% share of jobs worldwide.2 That includes 58% of total photovoltaic jobs globally. It is followed by Brazil, India, and the United States. But many other countries are seeing substantial job growth in renewables, including Vietnam and Malaysia that have experienced significant solar PV growth and Indonesia and Columbia that have built up their agricultural supply chains in support of biofuels.

Wind power is growing rapidly in Mexico and the Russian Federation. Solar jobs opportunities are expanding in African nations like South Africa, Nigeria, and Togo. Percentagewise, 8.8% of renewable energy jobs were in the Americas and 6% were in Europe, in 2020.

According to the report, more than 838,000 jobs directly and indirectly related to renewable energy are in the United States. That includes more than 231,000 solar PV, 271,000 liquid biofuel, and nearly 117,000 wind power jobs. In addition, 71,000 jobs can be attributed to hydropower and more than 44,000 to the solid biomass sector. In addition, more than 8,000 are employed in jobs related to geothermal energy.


Outlook for the Future

According to IRENA’s World Energy Transition Outlook, by 2050, up to 43 million people could be employed in the renewable energy sector. Energy transition is fueling what may become an even more robust job market. Building more flexible power grids could bring up to 21 million jobs by 2030, and, with current warming projections, hydrogen jobs may remain at around 2 million between 2030 and 2050.

IRENA also expects a demand for various types of occupations. While the proportion of each varies with the type of technology, opportunities won’t be limited to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) professionals. Others include individuals in building trades, labor (mining/construction/manufacturing/transport), agriculture, metals/machinery, sales, business and administration, and print.

The Renewable Energy and Jobs Annual Review 2021 can be downloaded at IRENA.org.


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