Solar sector leads global renewables jobs growth

Renewable energy continues to bring socio-economic benefits by creating numerous jobs worldwide, according to the latest figures released by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

The seventh edition of Renewable Energy and Jobs – Annual Review shows that jobs in the sector reached 11.5m globally last year, led by solar PV with some 3.8m jobs, or a third of the total.

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

Last year, 63 per cent of all renewables jobs were recorded in Asia, confirming the region’s status as a market leader, the new report reveals. Biofuels jobs followed closely behind solar PV, reaching 2.5m. Many of these jobs are in the agricultural supply chain, particularly in countries like Brazil, Colombia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand, with labour-intensive operations. Other large employers in the renewables sector are the hydropower and wind industries, with close to 2m and 1.2m jobs, respectively.

Renewables jobs have shown more inclusion and a better gender balance than fossil fuels. The report highlights that women held 32 per cent of total renewables jobs, as opposed to 21 per cent in fossil fuels sectors.

Although precise estimates remain scarce and absolute numbers are small for now, off-grid renewables are creating growing employment, led by solar technology. Decentralised renewable energy can also propel productive uses in rural areas. This job multiplier effect can be seen in farming and food processing, healthcare, communications, and local commerce.

Comprehensive policies, led by education and training measures, labour market interventions, and industrial policies that support the leveraging of local capacities, are essential for sustaining the renewables jobs expansion.

The 2020 edition of the annual review highlights promising initiatives to support the education and training of workers. Such efforts revolve around vocational training, curricula building, teacher training, the use of information and communications technology, promotion of innovative public-private partnerships, and recruitment of under-represented groups such as women.

The need to chart a different course is undeniable, as are the benefits to be reaped. IRENA’s recently released Post-COVID Recovery Agenda found that an ambitious stimulus programme could create up to 5.5m more jobs over the next three years than a business-as-usual approach. Such an initiative would also allow the world to stay on track for creating the 42m renewables jobs that the agency’s Global Renewables Outlook projects for 2050.

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