The International Renewable Energy Agency—a global intergovernmental organization with 180 country members that supports renewable energy transition—has just released its Renewable Energy and Jobs report for 2020, with some surprising revelations about the role of solar energy in new job creation.

Renewable energy, now predominant in new electric power capacity, has proven especially flexible, cost-effective, and resilient in the face of the 2020 health and economic crisis,” IRENA Director-General Francesco La Camera writes in the foreword to this year’s report. “Even better, renewables create numerous and diverse jobs. Last year, jobs in the sector worldwide reached an estimated 11.5 million, continuing a long-term growth trend.”

Here comes the solar

Solar photovoltaic (PV) energy accounted for 3.8 million of these jobs, nearly one-third of the total number. IRENA also found that most renewables job creation was highly regionally clustered, with Asia as a whole accounting for 63% of total renewables jobs.

And this concentration was particularly true in the industry-leading solar PV space, where 87 percent of all jobs were concentrated in ten countries. China, currently the world’s leading producer of solar PV equipment as well as the largest installation market, accounted for 2.2 million jobs, or more than half of global sector employment. By comparison, the United States is currently home to around 240,000 solar energy jobs.

Liquid biofuels production was the second-largest renewable energy job creator, accounting for 2.5 million jobs in 2019. Biofuels production rose 5 percent in 2019, due largely to a 13 percent expansion in biodiesel production led by Indonesia, now the largest country producer of biodiesel, ahead of the United States. and Brazil.

IRENA notes that most biofuel processing jobs are concentrated in the agriculture sector, and involve planting and harvesting feedstock, but these jobs are typically higher-skilled and better-paying than other forms of agriculture work. Latin America accounts for 43 percent of global biofuels jobs, with Asia (primarily Southeast Asia, specifically Indonesia and Malaysia) home to 34 percent.

The very consolidated wind market was the third-biggest renewable energy employer in 2019, accounting for 1.17 million worldwide. Almost 23,000 wind turbines were installed in 2019. The Chinese market has been (and remains) almost entirely supplied by domestic companies, which account for around 510,000 jobs or 44% of the global number. European countries—wind giants Vestas and Siemens Gamesa alone account for one-third of global turbine production— dominate the rest of global production, with 127,000 jobs.

The Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) estimates that 344 GW of new offshore and offshore wind power capacity may be installed globally. New installations could potentially create an addition 2.4 million job-years, up from 395,000 job-years created in 2020 to 542,000 in 2024.

Wanted: Women in Wind

IRENA’s report noted a lack of gender diversity in the wind energy sector, in particular, finding that women represent just 21 percent of the global wind energy workforce, compared to a 32 percent proportion for women in all other renewable energy jobs. IRENA’s survey, which canvassed over 1,000 individuals and organizations, was conducted in cooperation with the Global Wind Energy Council (GWC) and Global Women’s Network for the Energy Transition (GWNET).

“While respondents perceived that women possess the required skills and knowledge, they highlighted perceptions of gender roles and cultural-social norms and major barriers to gender equality in the sector,” IRENA wrote.

IRENA has proposed a post-covid recovery plan for renewable energy deployment that would create 5.5 million transition-related jobs over the next week years, bringing the total number of renewables jobs to 30 million worldwide by 2030.

Energy Futures Initiative

On Monday, the U.S.-based Energy Futures Initiative (EFI) and American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) released “Energy Transitions: The Framework for Good Jobs in a Low-Carbon Future,” detailing their own ten-point plan for a U.S. energy jobs recovery.

They identify priority areas for new job creation and the advancement of social equity in a “deeply decarbonized” economy. These include a national action plan for deployment of carbon capture, utilization and sequestration technology; an analysis of existing energy infrastructure analysis to identify key energy infrastructure needs; new policies for siting and permitting of new electricity transmission projects; nuclear energy initiatives, including safe and affordable preservation of the existing fleet and deployment of next-generation technologies; the development of technology and policy pathways for natural gas; development of hydrogen as an alternative fuel for transportation, power and industry; expanded finance mechanisms for energy efficiency; a comprehensive assessment of U.S. capacity to produce industrial metals, including rare earths, lithium, cobalt, copper and palladium, an analysis of the offshore wind supply chain; and a roadmap for implementing natural and engineered carbon dioxide removal at scale.

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