The energy crisis is affecting billions of people around the world, as soaring prices have made it more expensive to power homes and businesses.
However, the current crisis has also accelerated the rush for renewable energy, as countries across the world scramble to develop more secure, as well as more sustainable power sources.
This is having a consequent knock-on effect on new job creation in the renewable energy field. Worldwide employment in the sector grew by 700,000 from 2020 to 2021, reaching 12.7 million jobs, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).
Renewable energy led green jobs boom
Its Renewable Energy and Jobs: Annual Review 2022 report, put together in collaboration with the International Labour Organization (ILO), shows that an increasing number of countries are creating jobs in the renewable energy sector. It says this jobs boom could increase worldwide employment in renewable energy to more than 38 million by 2030.
Solar photovoltaic (PV) has so far provided the biggest share of renewable energy jobs at 4.3 million, hydropower and biofuels with 2.4 million each, and wind power with 1.3 million. Other sectors such as geothermal, heat pumps and ocean energy make up the rest of the jobs growth.
More than 5 million renewable energy jobs have been created in the past decade. Image: IRENA
Almost two-thirds of these jobs are in Asia, according to IRENA’s data. China is way ahead of the pack as the country with the most renewable jobs, making up 42 percent of the global total. It’s followed by the EU and Brazil with 10 percent each, and the USA and India both at 7 percent.
The report says that most jobs in Africa remain in the conventional energy sector, as the region only comprises around 1 percent of the world’s installed solar PV and wind power capacity. However, it points out that there are growing job opportunities in the region in what it calls decentralized renewables.
The majority of renewable energy employment was in Asian countries in 2021. Image: IRENA
Around 257 gigawatts (GW) of renewable electricity capacity were installed worldwide in 2021, according to the report. This expanded cumulative capacity by 9 percent, with solar PV and wind power accounting for 88 percent of this expansion.
The lion’s share of new capacity was installed in China, accounting for half of new wind power installations and 40 percent of solar. However, IRENA says the rest of the world also added record amounts of solar and wind capacity in 2021.
Cumulative renewable electricity capacity expanded by 9 percent in 2021. Image: IRENA
Solar photovoltaic (PV)
Asian countries provide 79 percent of the world’s solar PV jobs, which grew by around 300,000 to 4.3 million from 2020 to 2021. The report says this reflects the region’s dominance in manufacturing and "strong presence" in installations. The remaining jobs were in the Americas (7.7 percent), Europe (6.8 percent) with the rest of the world making up 4.9 percent of all jobs.
The report notes that "the vast majority of global solar PV manufacturing takes place in China, supported by substantial government incentives and extensive research and development." However, two-thirds of China’s total PV production was shipped abroad in 2020. In contrast, the EU imported 84 percent of the solar modules it installed from 2017 to 2021, the US imported 77 percent and India 75 percent.
China provides the vast majority of jobs in the solar PV sector. Image: IRENA
Global employment in this sector grew from 1.25 million jobs in 2020 to 1.4 million a year later. Although Asia made up 57 percent of the global total, China accounted for most of these (48 percent). Europe (25 percent) and the Americas (16 percent) accounted for most of the rest.
IRENA says Europe is the leader in offshore construction and technology development. Four European countries accounted for more than three-quarters of global exports in 2020, led by Denmark and Germany.
The wind power sector employed 1.4 million people globally in 2021. Image: IRENA
Globally, approximately 2.3 million people worked in the sector in 2021, with two-thirds of these jobs in manufacturing. Global hydropower capacity grew by 25 GW in 2021, with China alone adding 21 GW of that.
China and India provided more than half of hydropower jobs worldwide. However, the report notes that Ethiopia is responsible for almost 2 percent of global employment in the sector reflecting the construction of the biggest hydropower project in Africa, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.
China and India host more than half of jobs in hydropower. Image: IRENA
Latin America accounts for 44 percent of all biofuel jobs worldwide, with Brazil being the biggest liquid biofuel employer. Asia provides 36 percent of jobs, with Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines also having large numbers of workers in the sector.
IRENA says the more highly mechanized agricultural sectors in North America and Europe mean these regions require fewer workers.
Ethanol comprises the biggest share of biofuel output globally, followed by biodiesel and hydrotreated vegetable oil. The U.S. and Brazil were the dominant ethanol producers in 2021, however Indonesia was the biggest producer of biodiesel.
Brazil and Indonesia are world leaders in liquid biofuel jobs. Image: IRENA
Making the future of work more inclusive and sustainable
IRENA says its analysis indicates that the renewable energy industry has a better gender balance than in the conventional energy sector, especially in the solar PV field. However, it says much more needs to be done to boost women’s participation at all levels.
"The increasing share of female employment suggests that dedicated policies and training can significantly enhance the participation of women in renewable energy occupations, inclusion and ultimately, achieve a just transition for all," says ILO Director-General Guy Ryder.
The World Economic Forum’s Jobs of Tomorrow white paper series seeks to quantify the need for green jobs in 10 countries, as well as ones that support more social inclusion, by 2030. It is a call to action for governments and businesses to prioritize investment in these jobs, and ensure workers receive fair wages as well as the skills to thrive.
The future of work was a topic on the agenda at the Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos in January.