Renewable energy as a vehicle for sustainable economic recovery – creating up to 30 million jobs globally by 2030

Renewable energyThe first-ever Global Renewables Outlook report  by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) was released in April, following up on their 2019 report, Global Energy Transformation: A Roadmap to 2050 .  At 292 pages, the full report  provides detailed statistics on the sectors within the renewable energy industry, demand forecasts, economy-wide impacts of energy transformation – including job impacts –  and regional analysis for ten broad global regions (Canada is lumped in with the U.S. and Mexico as “North America”). It addresses the pathways of electrification, system flexibility, renewable energy, green hydrogen, and innovation relating to energy and industry decarbonization.  The official  Summary Report (54 pages) is here . Summaries and commentary appear in “Renewables Agency urges $110-Trillion Green Infrastructure Investment to Supercharge Recovery, Boost Resilience” in The Energy Mix and in “Green energy could drive Covid-19 recovery with $100tn boost” (April 20) in The Guardian. A compilation of the regional fact sheets and infographics is here .

Although headlines will focus on the price tag of $1 Trillion for investment, the  “Jobs and Skills” section is also notable.  It considers two scenarios: “Planned Energy (PE)” and “Transforming Energy” (TE) and forecasts job numbers by subsector, as well as broad occupational demands.  Some examples:  in the TE scenario, the report forecasts close to 30 million renewable energy jobs by 2030 and 42 million by 2050. Regional-level forecasts are also provided:  for example, renewable energy jobs in North America are forecast to represent 23.0% of total energy jobs under the TE scenario by 2030 and 35.3% by 2050.

Coming as it does during the Covid-19 crisis, Global Renewables Outlook  joins the chorus advocating investment in renewables as the vehicle for a sustainable economic recovery:

“With the need for energy decarbonisation unchanged, such investments can safeguard against short-sighted decisions and greater accumulation of stranded assets. COVID-19 does not change the existential path required to decarbonise our societies and meet sustainability goals.  …. Economic recovery packages must serve to accelerate a just transition. … The time has come to invest trillions, not into fossil fuels, but into sustainable energy infrastructure.”



U.S. Solar industry rebounds to almost 250,000 workers in 2019

solar jobsThe 10th annual National Solar Jobs Census for the United States was released by the non-profit Solar Foundation in mid-February. It reports  a resurgence in solar industry employment in 2019, following two years of job losses in 2017 and 2018.  The report states that 249,983 U.S. workers  spent the majority of their time in solar-related activities in 2019, and an additional 94,549 workers spent some portion of their time on solar-related work, for a total of 344,532 workers. The full Report is downloadable (with free registration) from this link ,  with a summary here.  It provides state-by-state statistics re job totals and sectors within the solar industry, and profiles the solar industry in California (where the Title 24 mandate went into effect in 2019, requiring all new residential homes to be built with solar PV), and the South-east U.S. The report also forecasts future trends, and  provides discussions of demographics and workforce development, reporting that a majority of employers have difficulty recruiting and hiring. (Through its Solar Training Network, the Solar Foundation published Strategies for Solar Workforce Development: A Toolkit for the Solar Industry  in 2018).

Some highlights from the 2019 National Solar Census:

  • About the industry: Approximately 93%  of U.S. solar establishments work in solar PV electricity generation. 16% of firms work on solar heating and cooling, (e.g. solar water heaters); 7% work on projects related to concentrating solar power (CSP).
  • About the demographics: Diversity remains almost the same as in 2018: women represented 26% of the solar workforce, Latino or Hispanic workers represented 17%, Asian workers comprised 9%, and black or African American workers comprised 8%.
  • About wages: for entry-level unlicensed (non-electrician) solar installers the median wage was $16.00 (the U.S. national median wage for all occupations is $18.58). The median wage for entry-level licensed (electrician) installers was $20.00.
  • Wages for production workers start at $15.00 for entry-level employees, ( national median wage for production workers is $16.85). Wages reached $36.50 for senior-level production employees.

Redefining green jobs to include healthcare and educational workers in the Green New Deal

green new deal public housingA thoughtful new contribution to the “green jobs” debate comes in Re-defining Green Jobs for a Sustainable Economy ,  released by The Century Foundation, in cooperation with Data for Progress, on December 2.  Co-author Greg Carlock is currently Senior Fellow and Research Director for Climate at Data for Progress, and was one of the authors of the original visioning document A Green New Deal  , published in 2018 and leading to the current U.S. movement launched by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.  Data for Progress continues to monitor public opinion and publish important contributions to the Green New Deal debate – in November, exploring the issue of a Green New Deal for Public Housing.

Re-defining Green Jobs for a Sustainable Economy outlines an interesting  history of the  “green jobs” definition and measurement in the U.S., but the  main purpose of the report is to propose an expanded definition and framework of green jobs which would encompass the principles of equity and sustainability. Ultimately, the report recommends how an expanded definition can be integrated into U.S. public policy.

Perhaps most importantly,  Re-defining Green Jobs for a Sustainable Economy focuses in detail on demonstrating  why health care and educational workers should be considered as part of the green workforce,  stating that including them in the green workforce definition  “would go a long way toward gender and racial equity, and toward ensuring all workers green, family-sustaining jobs.”

An expanded definition of a green job, from the report:

“A green job should refer to any position that is part of the sustainability workforce: a job that contributes to preserving or enhancing the well-being, culture, and governance of both current and future generations, as well as regenerating the natural resources and ecosystems upon which they rely. And in order for green jobs themselves to be sustainable, they need to be good, living-wage jobs…. These green job occupations stand in contrast to work—even decent-paying work—in industries that result in the depletion or degradation of ecological systems and the social, cultural, and political institutions that support them.”



European and U.S. studies discuss training needs for green and greenable jobs

The 2019 edition of the European Commission’s flagship analytical report Employment and Social Developments in Europe (ESDE) was released in July, dedicated to the theme of sustainability.  On September 10, the European Trade Union Institute hosted a conference to discuss Chapter 5 of that report, titled “Towards a greener future: employment and social impacts of climate change policies”. The chapter, downloadable from this link , focuses on three aspects of environmental and social sustainability in the EU: 1. the definitions and discussion framework of green jobs and occupations in the EU economy;  2. the key findings of recent studies of the expected impacts on employment, skills, income and task structures of jobs in a clean transition;  and 3. energy poverty and the link between climate action, air pollution and human health.  In general, the chapter states that the transition to a climate-neutral economy is expected to provide additional jobs in growing, green(ing) sectors both in industry and services, including construction, waste management and sustainable finance, but will require significant reskilling and labour reallocation across sectors and occupations, with careful and early policy intervention required to ensure success.  Opinions from the ETUI discussants  is summarized here , including the view that the chapter may underestimate the costs of transition.

Training for “greenable jobs”

Chapter 5 of the EU report states that “Analysis of task content also shows that green jobs vary in ‘greenness’, with very few jobs only consisting of green tasks, suggesting that the term ‘green’ should be considered a continuum rather than a binary characteristic. While it is easier to transition to indirectly green rather than directly green jobs, greening is likely to involve transitions on a similar scale and scope of existing job transitions. Non-green jobs generally appear to differ from their green counterparts in only a few skill-specific aspects, suggesting that most re-training can happen on-the-job.”

Appendix 1  of Chapter 5 (p. 36) highlights four recent studies on the “greenness of jobs” with one North American study: Bowen et al.   “Characterising  green employment: The impacts of ‘greening’ on workforce composition” which appeared in Energy Economics in May 2018.  Using the U.S. O*NET database and its definition of green jobs, the paper estimates that “19.4% of U.S. workers could currently be part of the green economy in a broad sense, although a large proportion of green employment would be ‘indirectly’ green, comprising existing jobs that are expected to be in high demand due to greening, but do not require significant changes in tasks, skills, or knowledge.”

insulalater2-365x365O*NET describes itself as   “the primary source of occupational information” for the United States, part of the U.S. Department of Labor/Employment and Training Administration.  O*NET  counts any occupation that will be affected by greening as a greenable job, and defines three subcategories, according to the effect that greening will have on the tasks, skills, and knowledge required for the job –  namely changing skill green occupations (e.g. construction workers and farmers); higher demand green occupations (e.g. bus and train drivers and renewable energy engineers); and new green occupations (e.g. energy and sustainability auditors and sustainable finance managers).



With progressive policies, Canada’s clean energy sector will provide over 500,000 jobs by 2030

Two new economic studies project the potential for growth in the clean energy sector to 2030 in  Canada and in Nova Scotia.

fast laneOn October 3, Vancouver-based Clean Energy Canada announced  its new report, The Fast Lane , which predicts that “ Canada’s clean energy sector will employ 559,400 Canadians by 2030—in jobs like insulating homes, manufacturing electric buses, or maintaining wind farms. And while 50,000 jobs are likely to be lost in fossil fuels over the next decade, just over 160,000 will be created in clean energy—a net increase of 110,000 new energy jobs in Canada.”  That translates into a job growth rate of 3.4% a year for clean energy from 2020, compared to an overall job growth rate of 0.9% for Canada as a whole and a decline of 0.5% a year for the fossil fuel sector.

missing the bigger pictureNavius Research conducted the economic modelling underlying The Fast Lane, as well as a May 2019 Clean Energy Canada report, Missing the Bigger Picture  , which reports on clean energy investment and jobs from 2010 to 2017.  The more detailed economic modelling reports by Navius are available as  Quantifying Canada’s Clean Energy Economy: A forecast of clean energy investment, value added and jobs  , and Quantifying Canada’s Clean Energy Economy: An assessment of clean energy investment, value added and jobs (May).

The message for policy-makers is made clear in the introduction to The Fast Lane by Merran Smith, Executive Director of Clean Energy Canada: “The sector’s projected growth is modelled on policy measures either in place or announced in early 2019 at both federal and provincial levels. If climate measures are eliminated—as we’ve recently seen in Alberta and Ontario—our emissions will go up and Canadians working in clean energy could lose jobs.”

An article in The Energy Mix summarizes  The Fast Lane . It quotes Lliam Hildebrand, Executive Director of Iron and Earth , a worker-led non-profit which promotes upskilling and retraining for fossil fuel workers:  “It’s really important for people to know that most fossil fuel industry workers are really proud of their trades skills and would be excited—and are excited—about the opportunity to apply those skills to building a sustainable energy future …. But they need support in making that transition.”

A similar message comes through in “After oil and gas: Meet Alberta workers making the switch to solar”  , an article in The Narwhal which profiles three workers who have transitioned from jobs in the fossil fuel industry. The article also summarizes the policy environment in Alberta, where according to Statistics Canada, roughly 1 in every 16 workers in Alberta is employed in the category described as “forestry, fishing, mining, quarrying, oil and gas.” The Narwhal quotes  Rod Wood, national representative from Unifor, who states that the global energy transition “is going to happen in spite of Alberta…You’re either part of the conversation or you’re lunch. It’s just going to steamroll over you.” And  Mark Rowlinson of the United Steelworkers Union and BlueGreen Alliance Canada states: “ The market tends to move with its own feet. If the market sees that the future of the fossil fuel industry is not looking great, it will move quickly… And it will move without a plan. That means there will be wreckage left behind it, and that’s what we need to try to avoid.”

Clean economy policies could bring 180,000 jobs to Nova Scotia by 2030:

Nova Scotia’s Ecology Action Centre submitted what it calls a “Green Jobs Report” to the province’s consultation on its proposed Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act, just ended on September 27.  EAC proposed six policy choices, including supplying 90% of the province’s electricity from renewables by 2030, with a summary  here.  A detailed report, Nova Scotia Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act: Economic Costs and Benefits for Proposed Goals  was prepared by economic consultants Gardner Pinfold and estimates the benefits of each proposal,  with the conclusion that the proposed policies could create over 15,000 green jobs per year in Nova Scotia, for a total of just less than 180,000 job-years between now and 2030.