Renewable energy jobs grew to 12 million globally despite pandemic, supply chain challenges

More than 12 million people around the world worked in renewable energy in 2020, an increase of 500,000 from the year before, even after the significant impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. 

The joint report from the International Renewable Energy Agency and International Labour Organization found that solar PV employs a third of the renewable energy industry at 4 million workers, followed by bioenergy, hydropower, and wind.

More renewable energy professionals are employed in China than in any other country, 39%, followed by India and the U.S.

“Renewable energy’s ability to create jobs and meet climate goals is beyond doubt,” said IRENA Director-General Francesco La Camera. “With COP26 in front of us, governments must raise their ambition to reach net zero. The only path forward is to increase investments in a just and inclusive transition, reaping the full socioeconomic benefits along the way.” 

Diversity continues to challenge the renewable energy industry — women make up only 32% of global renewable energy workers, representing a larger share than the overall energy sector. In 2018, IRENA estimated that women made up 20-25% of the renewable energy workforce.

Solar Energy International, a workforce development organization, is working to address significant labor demands in the U.S. market, as President Biden has set a goal of generating half of the American electricity supply form solar by 2050.

A crucial component of that, SEI spokesperson Chris Turek says, is improving diversity and opportunity in the sector.

“We’ve had a women in solar program for years, but we’re really starting to ramp that up as having more of a focus on getting more women into the solar workforce,” Turek told Renewable Energy World in an interview. “We’re seeing a really exciting shift of diversity… it’s really nice to  see that solar is leading a lot of other trades (in that shift).”

The justification for green investment continues to improve, too, with a new report from the World Resources Institute finding that green investments generally create more jobs dollar-for-dollar than unsustainable investments. Meanwhile, governments emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic continue to fund unsustainable infrastructure over clean energy and energy efficiency — $334 billion to $276 billion.

The report finds that $1 million in green investments often create more near-term jobs than the equivalent investment in unsustainable solutions.

Subscribe to Renewable Energy World’s free, weekly newsletter for more stories like this