Energy Transition

The renewable energy transition is creating a green jobs boom

12.7 million people now work in the global renewable energy sector.

12.7 million people now work in the global renewable energy sector. Image: Unsplash/Jason Blackeye

Stefan Ellerbeck
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Energy Transition

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

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  • 12.7 million people now work in the global renewable energy sector, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency.
  • It says the biggest growth has been in the solar photovoltaic (PV) sector, especially in Asia, which employs 79% of the global total.
  • Wind and hydropower, as well as liquid biofuels make up most of the rest of the growth in renewable energy jobs.
  • China dominates employment in most renewable energy sectors, however Brazil has the most biofuel jobs.

The energy crisis is impacting 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 2020-2021, 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 like geothermal, heat pumps and ocean energy make up the rest of the jobs growth.

Chart showing the evolution of global renewable energy employment by technology
More than five 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% of the global total. It’s followed by the EU and Brazil with 10% each, and the USA and India both at 7%.

The report says that most jobs in Africa remain in the conventional energy sector, as the region currently only comprises around 1% 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.

Infographic showing the renewable energy employment in selected countries
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%, with solar PV and wind power accounting for 88% of this expansion.

The lion’s share of new capacity was installed in China, accounting for half of new wind power installations and 40% of solar. However IRENA says the rest of the world also added record amounts of solar and wind capacity in 2021.

Chart showing the world renewable electricity capacity
Cumulative renewable electricity capacity expanded by 9% in 2021. Image: IRENA
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How is the World Economic Forum facilitating the transition to clean energy?

Solar photovoltaic (PV)

Asian countries provide 79% of the world’s solar PV jobs, which grew by around 300,000 to 4.3 million from 2020-2021. 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%), Europe (6.8%) with the rest of the world making up 4.9% 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% of the solar modules it installed from 2017-2021, the US imported 77% and India 75%.

Chart showing the solar pv employment in 2021 in the top ten countries
China provides the vast majority of jobs in the solar PV sector. Image: IRENA

Wind power

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% of the global total, China accounted for most of these (48%). Europe (25%) and the Americas (16%) 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 employment in 2021 in the top ten countries
The wind power sector employed 1.4 million people globally in 2021. Image: IRENA

Hydropower

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 now responsible for almost 2% of global employment in the sector reflecting the construction of the biggest hydropower project in Africa, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

The hydropower employment for direct jobs by country
China and India host more than half of jobs in hydropower. Image: IRENA

Liquid biofuels

Latin America accounts for 44% of all biofuel jobs worldwide, with Brazil being the biggest liquid biofuel employer. Asia provides 36% 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 US and Brazil were the dominant ethanol producers in 2021, however Indonesia was the biggest producer of biodiesel.

Liquid biofuels employment in 2021 in the top ten countries
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 will be a topic on the agenda at the Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos in January 2023.

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