Transition to clean energy will strip employment out of a large chunk of the global workforce, which has been conventionally connected to fossil fuel.
Clean energy employment is “rapidly growing” and now accounts for more than half of all energy sector jobs, according to a new report. The first World Energy Employment Report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) finds that hiring in clean energy has pushed energy sector employment globally above pre-pandemic levels – despite the oil and gas sector still struggling to recover from big layoffs in the initial stages of COVID-19.
The agency says clean energy has now “surpassed the 50% mark for its share of total energy employment” and has the biggest potential for job creation. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the energy crisis that followed have seen countries looking to accelerate the growth of homegrown clean energy industries.
14 million new clean energy jobs needed
More than 65 million people were working in the energy sector in 2019, accounting for almost 2% of formal employment globally. Of the 1.3 million new energy jobs added between 2019 and 2021, “virtually all” of this growth is in clean energy jobs, the IEA estimates. To reach net-zero emissions by 2050, the world will need to create 14 million new clean energy jobs by 2030 and move another 16 million workers to clean energy roles, the IEA estimates. Around 60% of these new jobs will need some degree of training beyond higher education levels.
Major new manufacturing facilities, especially in solar technologies and electric vehicles, have come online since 2019 and are helping to drive this growth in clean energy jobs. The IEA defines clean energy workers as those in sectors including bioenergy supply, generating power from nuclear and renewable sources, electricity grids and storage, electric vehicles manufacturing and energy efficiency.
Decarbonizing driving new employment
Efforts to decarbonize the energy sector are driving employment trends, the IEA says. By 2050, countries representing more than 70% of global emissions have committed to achieving targets on net-zero emissions – effectively removing greenhouse gas emissions.
Clean energy is critical to this transition by allowing the world to generate and use energy from renewable sources with no or low emissions of greenhouse gases, which accelerate climate change by warming the atmosphere. Most regions of the world already employ more than 50% of their energy workforce in clean energies, though the Middle East and Russia are “notable exceptions,” the IEA says.
The Asia-Pacific region provides more than half the world’s energy sector employment, according to the report. Access to lower-cost labour has helped countries here become clean energy manufacturing hubs, especially in solar technologies, electric vehicles and batteries.
New jobs in solar, wind, and bio-energy
Between 2019 and 2021, the number of people working in solar photovoltaics (solar PV) – systems that turn sunlight into electricity – grew from 3 million to 3.4 million, the IEA estimates. China employed about half of these workers. North America had almost 280,000 solar PV workers, and in Europe, there were more than 260,000. Africa’s solar workforce of around 50,000 people has “high potential for growth,” the IEA says, as solar systems grow in number to widen electricity access.
The wind power sector employed 1.2 million people in 2019. More than 500,000 of these were in China, 300,000 in Europe, and 144,000 in North America, according to the report. By 2021, wind power employment had grown to an estimated 1.3 million people. In both wind and solar, building out new assets involves the most labour. In wind power, more than 80% of workers are employed in manufacturing and installing new turbines.
Another 3.3 million people globally worked in bioenergy supply in 2019, and around 10.9 million people worked in energy efficiency in buildings and industry. Manufacturing electric vehicles and battery chargers are expected to be “one of the largest areas of employment growth for the energy sector in the coming years,” the IEA says.
EVs power jobs growth
Of the 12.7 million workers in the vehicles sector in 2019, around 460,000 were working in the manufacture of electric vehicles. This sector is “highly regionally concentrated,” the IEA says, with China accounting for more than 60% of electric vehicle manufacturing. Employment by region might shift in coming years if countries decide to increase their domestic production of electric vehicles, the IEA notes. Sales of electric vehicles reached a record 18 million in 2021 and have continued to grow strongly into 2022.
Workers in coal and other fossil fuels have “many of the skills” needed for clean energy jobs, and some companies are transferring their workers to low-carbon segments, the IEA says. The organization also notes that around 45% of energy workers are in highly-skilled jobs, compared to only a quarter of workers in the workforce globally. The IEA hopes its inaugural World Energy Employment Report will provide the first worldwide benchmark for employment across energy industries.