The year 2020 demonstrated that not even a global pandemic can slow the advance of renewable energy. It also revealed the tight connections between environments, economies and human well- being. These, and the rapidly rising challenges of climate change, reinforce the need for a just and inclusive transition toward a clean, reliable energy supply and decent and climate-friendly jobs.
That transition is well under way: Last year jobs in the renewable energy sector grew to 12 million. The 1.5°C pathway put forward by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) in its World Energy Transitions Outlook will lead to 122 million energy sector jobs globally by 2050 (of which 43 million will be in renewables) and will set the conditions for long-term economic resilience, development and equality.
Solar photovoltaics will provide the most jobs by 2050 (20 million), followed by bioenergy, wind and hydropower. Renewable energy employment has been on an upward trajectory since IRENA’s first jobs report in 2012. Then as now, solar photovoltaics has led the field, accounting for some 4 million jobs today.
Large-scale solar facilities feed power to the grid, while small, off-grid solar applications offer much-needed access to electricity to remote and energy-poor communities. Although off-grid sales took a hit from COVID-19 in 2020, off-grid solutions will continue to power farming, food processing, education and health care. Bioenergy employed some 3.5 million people and hydropower another 2.2 million.
Wind energy follows with 1.25 million jobs, with a growing number in operations and maintenance and in offshore wind energy. The wind sector’s workforce is still male dominated; only a fifth of workers are women, comparable to the traditional oil and gas industry. The renewable energy sector as a whole shows a better gender balance (32% women). Yet, much remains to be done to ensure that the industry benefits fully from women’s skills, talents and ideas.
The energy transition has revealed the need to expand skills in all regions of the world to create a capable renewable energy workforce. Meeting that need will require more vocational training, stronger curricula and greater training of trainers. Making use of digital innovations in teaching is another task, especially in light of the pandemic.