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Leon Kaye headshot

Clean Energy Employs Almost 10 Million People Worldwide

By Leon Kaye

Despite political volatility, the low cost of fossil fuels and infrastructure challenges, 9.8 million people worked in the clean energy sector worldwide as of 2016. That is a 1.1 percent increase from the previous year and an increase of an additional 2.1 million people in 2014.

The International Renewable Agency (IRENA), an intergovernmental organization based in Abu Dhabi, announced the numbers in its most recent annual jobs report.

When employment within large hydropower projects is excluded, the total amount of jobs across the world within the renewables industry totals 8.3 million people.

The increase in employment in what many still describe as a nascent industry is in stark contrast to job opportunities within the fossil fuels sector. IRENA has estimated that in 2015 and 2016, 400,000 people in the oil and gas industry across the world lost their jobs – and 40 percent of those losses occurred within the U.S. alone. Furthermore, the decrease in employment within the coal sector is hardly an American phenomenon. IRENA has noted that China closed 5,600 coal mines last year, which could lead to the loss of as many as 1.3 million jobs. Similar trends are underway in India, where the country’s largest coal producer has alone shed 185,000 jobs.

Solar led the way in the global renewables boom last year. The addition of 71 gigawatts worldwide boosted employment within the sector by 12 percent for a total of 3.1 million jobs. China accounted for half of those job increases, but head count in the U.S. industry grew as well with a 24 percent increase to 241,000 jobs. In India, solar power investment has been one of the keystones of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s domestic policy, and those efforts have begun to pay off as employment surged 17 percent to 121,000 jobs. And in addition to those usual suspects, Bangladesh has also seen its solar power sector rapidly surge, with 140,000 jobs now attributed to that industry.

The liquid biofuels industry is the world’s second largest renewables employer, with over 1.7 million people working within the sector. The transformation of crops into fuel has been controversial across the world, with the European Union recently voting to ban palm oil as a source for biofuels. Most of the new jobs linked to this industry are within the agricultural sector, with growth occurring largely in Latin America and Southeast Asia.

While employment in the wind power industry has not grown at the same pace as solar, the sector overall is still in growth mode. IRENA estimates that 1.2 million across the world now work for the industry, a 7 percent increase from 2015. Employment in the U.S. spiked 28 percent to just over 100,000 jobs, remarkable as the country has still not gone anywhere close to tapping its offshore wind power potential. The U.S. joined with Germany, Brazil and India to account for 35 percent of new capacity addition. IRENA sees continued growth in the wind power industry, and projects the sector to support 3 million jobs by 2030.

IRENA has also enumerated job growth in emerging economies. The agency views renewables as key to energy security as well as economic development in much of Africa, and the numbers suggest growth is underway – from the 26,000 jobs in South Africa to Rwanda’s 7,000 new jobs last year.

By 2030, the total amount of clean energy jobs globally could surpass 24 million; that is, if training and education can catch up with the growing demand for skills, and countries stay committed to their climate change goals.

Image credit: Brahma Kumaris/Flickr

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye