Renewable Energy Sector Employs Over 5 Million


According to a recent UN report, the number of renewable energy jobs doubled globally between 2007 and 2011 and millions more will be employed in the sector over the next 20 years.
The shift to a greener global economy could see an additional 15 to 60 million additional job over the next two decades according to a study led by the Green Jobs Initiative; a UN International Labour Organization (ILO) project.
However, the devil is in the detail and the level of growth will greatly depend on the appropriate set of policies being put in place. 
According to the report, of the 5 million existing jobs in the renewables sector at the beginning of 2011, over 1.5 million were in biofuels, 900,000 in solar hot water, 820,000 in solar photovoltaic (PV), up to 750,000 in biomass power and heat, 670,000 in the wind power sector, 230,000 were employed in biogas and 40,000 in solar thermal power. 
In 2009/10, the solar PV sector in China was estimated to have employed 300,000 people and in the EU, 268,000 were working in the sector.
While the growth of the renewable energy industry has had more of a supplemental effect in the overall energy mix in some countries rather than substituting fossil fuels – and consequently with little impact on fossil fuel related jobs – the need to transition to a more sustainable energy sector will eventually have a greater impact. The report states evidence suggests that renewables are better job creators than the fossil fuel industry; so a net increase in employment may be expected in the energy sector.
A method of assessing the employment potential of energy is to measure it in terms of jobs created per unit of produced or installed capacity; e.g. job-years per gigawatt hour (GWh). A graph in the report pegs natural gas and coal at just over .1 job-years per gigawatt hour and solar PV at close to .9 job-years per gigawatt hour.
The study says jobs relating to smaller PV solar power systems may have a significant impact on employment across the developing world in the years ahead.
According to ILO Director-General Juan Somavia, the findings underline that a greener global economy can help millions in overcoming poverty.
“It is a positive message of opportunity in a troubled world of challenges that we are relaying to capital cities across the globe as leaders prepare and plan for the Rio+20 Summit,” he said, also stating “Environmental sustainability is not a job killer.”
The report, titled “Working towards sustainable development: Opportunities for decent work and social inclusion in a green economy”, can be viewed in full here (PDF).