The renewable energy sector is showing year on year growth in terms of its job creation, with countries such as India and China leading the way, and solar photovoltaic (PV) panels dominating the agenda. 

As technologies and access improve, jobs are being created, and many are located in once isolated areas. With multiple Asian countries emerging as manufacturers and exporters of solar PV modules, this too, has had meaningful impact. 

The Abu Dhabi-based International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) Renewable Energy and Jobs Annual Review 2019 showed that Asia alone hosted over 3 million PV jobs, the equivalent of nine-tenths of the global total. Latin American countries have emerged as a player too, seeing growth following the rising regional demands for solar power.

Globally, the sector employed 11 million people in 2019, up from 10.3 million in 2018, according to the report. A massive 39% of these are in China, and 3.6 million are concentrated in the solar PV industry, with one third of jobs held there.

A rise in demand for off-grid solar power solutions is creating more jobs and helping spur economic activity in once isolated communities.

The top 10 countries by employment for solar PV numbers are now dominated by Asia; China, Japan, United States, Bangladesh, India, Malaysia, Turkey (counted as Asia), Germany, Vietnam and Taiwan. These top 10 hold a total of 84% of all solar PV jobs, with 61% in China alone. 

The report stated that “the increasingly diverse geographic footprint of energy-generation capacities and, to a lesser degree, assembly and manufacturing plants, has created jobs in a rising number of countries”. 

This rising output is having effects in sectors beyond solar; biofuel jobs are up 6% to 2.1 million, with slower but steady growth in wind power technology – where China is also a leading player - and hydro power, which employs 1.2 million and 2.1 million respectively.

While much of these changes have been spurred by government goals to reduce emissions and meet international climate targets, the socio-economic benefits are proving invaluable too. 

Francesco La Camera, Director-General of IRENA, said: “Renewable energy delivers on all main pillars of sustainable development: environmental, economic and even social. Alongside declining costs and steadily improving technologies, the transition to renewables is also creating numerous employment opportunities.”

Armenia has been boosted by the construction of its first micro solar farm in the Vayots Dzor province. The EU has invested EUR 1.5mn into the construction of the solar farm as a key component of a major and forward thinking, regional development initiative. 

The pilot project aims to not only support renewable energy production, but support the local economy, trying to boost tourism related business in the region. Small business owners and prospectors have been closely watching the project, which looks to fund sustainable businesses in the future. 

The country’s Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinyan, visited EU chiefs in March, to garner more support for other sustainable energy options, resulting in the EU agreeing to EUR 65mn in assistance to construct solar, hydro and wind plants in coming years.

In Bangladesh, between now and 2024, World Bank credit of $185mn, will mean the installation of up to 310MW of new solar power capacity.

Not only will this bring the cost of electricity down and increase access to reliable electricity, and in turn, reduce the reliance on the likes of heavy polluting diesel and oil power, meaning cleaner power and cleaner air, but it will boost employment and diversify the country’s economy. 

The Electricity Generating Company of Bangladesh has also been reported to be planning to provide livelihood training and direct employment opportunities to the local community, looking to implement an economic development project, such as a fishery, in the project area.

India’s renewable energy goal of 175 gigawatts (GW) by 2022 will mean a huge rise in employment opportunities. Research carried out by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) and The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in 2017 predicted the creation of over 300,000 jobs up to 2022, to reach these targets, in the solar and wind sectors, but most heavily, in rooftop solar, a more labour intensive system.

Between 2016-17 alone, solar and wind energy employed more than 21,000 people in India, with upcoming solar jobs to be well distributed across the country, while wind will be concentrated in a few states.

The future is bright. Development of renewable energy has the potential to create many ‘indirect’ jobs beyond just the manufacturing sector, including those in the supply chain for the plants, in the finance and banking sectors, and jobs created for meter reading and data analytics within distribution companies.

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