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Here’s where the jobs in renewable energy are

Stock photo model in ill-fitting coat and hard hat wishes she could find a job in renewables.
Stock photo model in ill-fitting coat and hard hat wishes she could find a job in renewables.

Compared with its competitors in the energy space, the renewable energy industry is young. But it is growing quickly, especially in Asia. This week the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) released a report on global employment in renewables.

The report estimates both direct and indirect employment, as of 2013-'14. Large hydropower dams are excluded.

Here are the five facts you need to know.

1) China has about 43 percent of the world's renewable energy jobs, way more than any other country

renewable energy jobs worldwide


The biggest renewable energy employers in China are solar PV (1.6 million jobs) and wind (356,000). This blows away the number of people employed in either of those industries in any other country, by multiples. Why? In a word, manufacturing. Some 80 percent of solar PV jobs and 70 percent of wind jobs in China are in manufacturing.

Between 2013 and 2014, jobs in renewable energy increased in China and the US but declined in the EU, including in Germany.

2) Globally, solar PV employs more people than any other renewable energy source

renewable energy jobs by technology


Solar panels keep getting cheaper, which means more and more are being manufactured and installed. In particular, the pace of installations is skyrocketing in China and Japan. Japan has gotten serious about going solar, and solar jobs more than tripled between 2012 and 2013.

3) Most renewable energy equipment is manufactured in Asia; the rest of the world installs and operates it

Global trends have shaped this industry like many others:

Manufacturing jobs, especially those for wind turbines and solar panels, are increasingly concentrated in a few Asian markets. Other segments of the renewable energy value chain (namely operation and maintenance and construction and installation) offer the bulk of employment opportunities for most countries.

4) In the US, ethanol is still the biggest renewable energy industry for jobs

Liquid biofuels, including both ethanol and biodiesel, employ more Americans than solar and wind combined. Here's the master chart showing employment by technology in each of the top 10 renewable energy markets:

renewable energy jobs around the world


If you add in biomass with liquid biofuels, it becomes clear that the large bulk of renewable energy jobs in the US are in "bio," i.e., growing and harvesting plants for energy, about which many environmentalists are extremely skeptical.

5) Fossil fuels employ more Americans than renewable energy, but coal employs fewer than clean electricity

It is difficult to tally up global jobs in fossil fuels, especially with a comparable methodology on direct and indirect jobs, but Martin Tillier of Oilwatch used BLM statistics to estimate US fossil fuel jobs and came up with about 2 million.

At 724,000, renewable energy is less than half that. Excluding biomass and biofuels, it comes to 290,000, about 15 percent. It will take a while before renewables have the market and lobbying might of their competitors.

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