Jobs in Renewable Energy Expanding

Michael Renner | Jul 09, 2008

Driven by the gathering sense of a climate crisis, the notion of “green jobs”—especially in the renewable energy sector—is now receiving unprecedented attention. Currently about 2.3 million people worldwide work either directly in renewables or indirectly in supplier indus­tries.1 Given incomplete data, this is in all like­lihood a conservative figure. The wind power industry employs some 300,000 people, the solar photovoltaics (PV) sector accounts for an estimated 170,000 jobs, and the solar thermal industry, at least 624,000.2 More than 1 million jobs are found in the biomass and biofuels sector.3 Small-scale hydropower and geothermal energy are far smaller employers. (See Figure 1.)

Renewables tend to be a more labor-intensive energy source than the still-dominant fossil fuels, which rely heavily on expensive pieces of pro­duction equipment. A transition toward renewables thus promises job gains. Even in the absence of such a transition, growing automa­tion and corporate consolidation are already translating into steadily fewer jobs in the oil, natural gas, and coal industries—sometimes even in the face of expanding production. Many hundreds of thousands of coal mining jobs have been shed in China, the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, and South Africa in the last decade or two.4 In the United States, coal output rose by almost one third during the past two decades, yet employment has been cut in half.5

A handful of countries have emerged as leaders in renewables development, thanks to strong government support. A study commissioned by the German government found that in 2006 the country had some 259,000 direct and indirect jobs in the renewables sector.6 The number is expected to reach 400,000–500,000 by 2020 and then 710,000 by 2030.7

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