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Biomass sector is largest renewable energy employer in EU, study shows

The number of workers in the renewable energy sector across the world has grown from 12 million in 2020 to 12.7 million in 2021, according to a report published today (22 September) by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

IRENA’s annual review of renewable energy jobs, developed in collaboration with the International Labour Organisation (ILO), shows that an increasing number of countries are creating jobs in the sector.

Almost two-thirds of all renewable energy jobs are in Asia, with China alone accounting for 42% of the global total, followed by the European Union and Brazil with 10% each, and the USA and India with 7% each.

“In the face of numerous challenges, renewable energy jobs remain resilient, and have been proven to be a reliable job creation engine,” said Francesco La Camera, IRENA’s Director-General. 

The world scored a new record in 2021, producing 132.8 GW of solar PV capacity installations, up from 125.6 GW in 2020.

While solar energy was found to be the fastest-growing sector worldwide, providing 4.3 million jobs in 2021, more than a third of the current global workforce in renewable energy is China which is the world’s first manufacturer and installer of PV panels. 

China accounted for 53 GW (40%) of the 2021 additions, followed by the United States, India and Brazil, all of which set new annual records.

Germany, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Spain and the Netherlands were the next largest sites of solar PV installations, but all of them failed to surpass their earlier peak volumes. 

Focus on EU

Countries in the European Union account for a total of 1.2 million jobs in the renewable energy field.

Here, the bioenergy sector is the largest employer on the continent. Solid biomass leads the ranking, with approximately 314,000 jobs, followed by wind power at approximately 298,000 and 235,000 in the solar industry. 

Biomass currently makes up nearly 60% of all European renewable energy – more than wind and solar combined, according to EU statistics.

Europe accounts for roughly 40% of the world’s wind manufacturing output and remains the most important exporter of wind power equipment, although the production of various components is to some extent shifting to other regions of the world in response to growing local demand and local-content requirements.

In the solar PV sector, the European Union added about 21.4 GW in 2021. Poland is home to the largest solar energy workforce on the continent (57,600). Other leading countries include Germany (51,300 jobs), Spain (31,500), the Netherlands (20,100), Ukraine (17,800), France (17,600) and Italy (15,000).

EU solar power generation hits record high

Solar power supply in the European Union during June and July rose to a record high in 2021, accounting for 10% of total electricity produced in the region, a report by independent climate think-tank Ember said on Wednesday (18 August).

Making the transition just

Workforce development is essential to make the energy transition successful, the report insists.

This needs to be addressed in a broad range of areas, including industrial policy, education and skills training, labour market and social protection measures, diversity and inclusion strategies, as well as regional revitalisation measures, the report argues.

Structural barriers also play a part, such as tackling fossil fuel dependence as well as commodity and technology trade patterns, it says.

“Beyond the numbers, there is a growing focus on the quality of jobs and the conditions of work in renewable energies, to ensure decent and productive employment,” said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder. 

“The increasing share of female employment suggests that dedicated policies and training can significantly enhance the participation of women in renewable energy occupations, inclusion and ultimately, achieve a just transition for all,” he added.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon. Infographic by Esther Snippe]

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