More than 9.8 million people were employed in the global renewable energy sector in 2016, with the solar industry providing the most jobs, according to a new report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).
“Falling costs and enabling policies have steadily driven up investment and employment in renewable energy worldwide since IRENA’s first annual assessment in 2012, when just over seven million people were working in the sector,” says IRENA Director-General Adnan Z. Amin. “In the last four years, for instance, the number of jobs in the solar and wind sectors combined has more than doubled.
“Renewables are directly supporting broader socio-economic objectives, with employment creation increasingly recognized as a central component of the global energy transition. As the scales continue to tip in favor of renewable, we expect that the number of people working in the renewables sector could reach 24 million by 2030, more than offsetting fossil-fuel job losses and becoming a major economic driver around the world,” adds Amin.
According to IRENA, global renewable energy employment, excluding large hydropower, reached 8.3 million in 2016. When accounting for direct employment in large hydropower, the total number of renewable energy jobs globally climbs to 9.8 million – a 1.1% increase over the total seen in 2015. China, Brazil, the U.S., India, Japan and Germany accounted for most of the renewable energy jobs. In China, for example, 3.64 million people worked in renewables in 2016, a rise of 3.4%.
IRENA’s report shows that the solar photovoltaic (PV) sector was the largest renewable energy employer in 2016, with 3.1 million jobs – up 12% from 2015 – mainly in China, the U.S. and India. IRENA also highlights the U.S. solar industry’s historic year in 2016, when solar jobs increased 17 times faster than the overall U.S. economy and grew 24.5% from the previous year to over 260,000.
IRENA says new wind installations contributed to a 7% increase in global wind industry employment, raising it up to 1.2 million jobs. Brazil, China, the U.S. and India also proved to be key bioenergy job markets, with biofuels accounting for 1.7 million jobs, biomass 0.7 million, and biogas 0.3 million, the agency adds.
“IRENA has provided this year a more complete picture on the state of employment in the renewables sector, by including large hydropower data. It is important to recognize these additional 1.5 million working people, as they represent the largest renewable energy technology by installed capacity,” says Dr. Rabia Ferroukhi, head of IRENA’s policy unit and deputy director of knowledge, policy and finance.
The report finds that globally, 62% of the renewable energy jobs are located in Asia. Installation and manufacturing jobs continue to shift to the region, particularly Malaysia and Thailand, which has become a global center for solar PV fabrication.
In Africa, utility-scale renewable energy developments have made great strides, with South Africa and North Africa accounting for three-quarters of the continent’s 62,000 renewable jobs, according to the report.
“In some African countries, with the right resources and infrastructure, we are seeing jobs emerge in manufacturing and installation for utility-scale projects. For much of the continent, however, distributed renewables, like off-grid solar, are bringing energy access and economic development. These off-grid mini-grid solutions are giving communities the chance to leap-frog traditional electricity infrastructure development and create new jobs in the process,” says Ferroukhi.
IRENA’s full report is available here.