Renewable Energy as Global Job Machine

Beyond its positive impacts on the environment and standard of living in developing countries, renewable energy will affect a seismic shift in another area of global concern over the next 30 years.

Jobs.

Without exaggeration, renewable energy qualifies as one of the most – if not the most – important global job machines of our Century. Thanks to increased energy demand and production, both in developed and developing countries, jobs in the renewables sector will grow to 26 million by 2050 according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). That’s a 165 percent increase from the 9.8 million renewables-based jobs in 2o16. 

Another 2016 study co-authored by Stanford University’s Mark Jacobson is even more optimistic: 36 million jobs and 100 percent renewables by 2050, far eclipsing the 65 percent goal of the Paris Accords.

Consistent with these forecasts is an IRENA report predicting that the European Union will double the percentage of its energy consumption derived from renewable sources – and similarly boost the 1.2 million renewable energy jobs on the Continent – in just 12 years.

A closer look reveals where renewable energy employment is growing the fastest: solar. Of the 9.8 million currently employed in the renewable sector, almost one-third (3.1 million) work in photovoltaic (PV) solar – which, thanks to companies like CSDR International, is experiencing double-digit annual job growth.

The reasons for solar’s dominance as a job incubator are rooted in the evolving technology. While old-school coal mining and oil extraction is highly mechanized and requires significant investment up front, renewables rely more on human capital in increasingly varied fields:

  • Manufacturing – Meeting the Paris Accords goal will take millions more global employees tasked with creating the solar panels, windmill blades and other product advances needed to extract power from the sun and wind.
  • Transportation and Logistics – As the global renewables infrastructure grows, so too must the systems for transporting the latest equipment to the ever-expanding network of install sites, solar farms – and even entire solar cities.
  • Installation – The diversity of solar projects will require a similarly varied installer workforce. While distributed-solar requires traditional installations, a solar farm with technology able to track the sun calls for specialists skilled in alignment, testing, analytics and continual feedback and refinement.
  • Operations and Maintenance – It goes without saying that the world’s most sophisticated wind and solar farms will require ongoing maintenance. The constantly expanding energy stream will need to be monitored, controlled and distributed 24/7. 
  • Storage – Now in its infancy, the energy storage sector will only grow as a job creator as governments look to stabilize energy availability regardless of weather, geopolitical and other shifts.

Beyond large-scale utility projects with traditional employee rosters are sustainability start-ups requiring their own unique staffing. An example are green supply chain companies hiring global workforces able to integrate all phases of energy generation – product design, material sourcing and selection, manufacturing, distribution and delivery, management and maintenance – into a holistic system.

Since these self-contained “mini-grids” are typically located in developing countries that haven’t yet experienced the advantages of regular, reliable, renewable electricity, building a human capital infrastructure becomes even more important.

Of course, the main goal remains a carbonless energy future offering real climate change mitigation and environmental health benefits. Massive ongoing global job growth is simply a side benefit that all of us can enjoy

Leslie Gomez