Renewable Energy Employment on the Rise Globally, IRENA says


The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) has just published its 2015 Annual Review on “Renewable Energy and Jobs” and estimates that globally renewable energy jobs (excluding large hydropower) reached approximately 7.7 million in 2014.

Renewable Energy Employment in Selected Countries

roman irena1

Source: IRENA

The graphic above illustrates that familiar suspects can be found among the world’s leading countries for renewable energy employment: China, Brazil, the US, and Germany. What, however, may come as a positive surprise is the emergence of countries such as India and Bangladesh. This may partly be explained by policymakers in those countries understanding the value of distributed solar PV for tackling still widespread energy poverty in their countries.

Conversely, it is disappointing to see that renewable energy-related employment remains comparatively low on the African continent, the Middle East as well as Australia – prima facie, all locations suitable for a reasonable expansion of at least solar PV. In this respect, the IRENA report points to the fact that “renewable energy employment continues to be shaped by an array of supportive industrial and trade policies.” Consequently, a lack thereof helps to explain subpar growth vis-à-vis other energy sources in those countries.

The next graphic shows renewable energy employment by technology. Globally, solar PV installations are clearly in the lead and responsible – directly and/or indirectly – for the creation of “2.5 million jobs, of which two-thirds were in China”. The report also notes that while “falling prices for solar photovoltaic (PV) and wind equipment globally posed a challenge for manufacturers in some markets, thus affecting jobs, (…) [on balance] accelerated solar PV installation and expanded operations and maintenance spurred job growth [in other markets].” Interestingly, the “manufacturing of solar PV panels moved decisively from Europe and North America to Asia”, according to the report.

Renewable Energy Employment by Technology

roman irena2

Source: IRENA

Now, with respect to the US it is noteworthy that growth in solar installations drives job creation. The report cites a total of 173,800 US ‘solar’ jobs in 2014 in addition to US wind energy employment estimates in the range of 73,000 in 2014. Moreover, as (liquid) biofuels are globally the second largest employer with almost 1.8 million jobs. The US is a major biofuels producer and the report cites total US ethanol employment of about 232,600 in 2014. This is only slightly less than US wind and solar employment in 2014 together.

In this context, the EIA recently offered the following insight: “In 2014, U.S. fuel ethanol production reached 14.3 billion gallons of ethanol fuel, the highest level ever. The growth in U.S. fuel ethanol production has outpaced growth in corn consumed as feedstock – as the industry has grown, it has become more efficient, using fewer bushels of corn to produce a gallon of ethanol.”

roman irena3

Source: EIA

It seems somewhat shortsighted to slap the ‘renewable’ label on biofuels production and hail efficiency gains while ignoring both the sheer area of arable land utilized for ethanol production – i.e. in place of food crops – and the required substantial water and petroleum inputs.

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