There may now be as many as 6.5 million direct and indirect jobs in renewable energy, according to data from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). In fact, the latest job numbers suggest that positions in renewable energy industries will continue to grow as the world's energy system shifts to low-carbon sources.Â
Interestingly, the report identified that despite turmoil in some industries, such as solar and wind, the job trend points upward.
According to IRENA, the solar photovoltaic (PV) sector is a prime example. Researchers say intensified competition, massive overcapacities and tumbling prices have caused a high degree of turbulence in the last two to three years but have also triggered a boom in installations. Global PV employment is thought to have expanded from 1.4 million jobs in 2012 to as many as 2.3 million in 2013.
In fact, solar PV has bypassed biofuels (ethanol and biodiesel) as the top renewable energy job generator.
One notable exception was wind power. While employment is estimated at 834,000 jobs globally, uncertain policy threatens to undermine those numbers.
In the U.S., the authors say the number of wind jobs has fluctuated due to the "stop and go" nature of the production tax credit (PTC). With the PTC in question, the paucity of new wind installations resulted in steep job declines. According to IRENA, wind-related jobs tumbled 60% to 50,500 jobs in 2013 from 80,700 jobs in 2012. In contrast, developments in China and Canada were more positive.
Although the estimates suggest a strong expansion in employment in renewable energy, the figures also represent successive efforts to broaden data collection across countries and sectors.
According to IRENA, better information is necessary for a range of countries to generate a more complete and accurate renewable energy employment picture. Attention is also needed on the question of whether development of renewable energy leads to job loss elsewhere, including in the conventional energy industries.