Renewable energy jobs: The EU within the wider global context
Renewable energy offers a range of socio-economic benefits, including employment creation and the stimulation of local, national and regional economies. IRENA’s Renewable Energy and Jobs - Annual Review provides regular assessments of employment generation along the value chain. In the latest edition , we estimate that in 2017, some 10.3 million people were employed in the sector worldwide , up from 7.1 million in our first annual assessment in 2012. The solar photovoltaic (PV) industry has enjoyed the fastest expansion. It now employs close to 3.4 million people, putting it ahead of bioenergy, hydropower and wind power.
In 2017, some 10.3 million people were employed in the sector worldwide, up from 7.1 million in our first annual assessment in 2012
Even though an increasing number of countries derives benefits from renewable energy, employment remains concentrated in a handful of countries — primarily China, Brazil, the United States, India, Germany and Japan. Germany and other Member States of the European Union (EU) played a pioneering role in creating markets, manufacturing equipment and deploying renewables. Yet, policy uncertainties and reversals have presented challenges in recent years, during a time when China and some other Asian countries boosted their investments. Not only did they encourage domestic deployment with the help of feed-in tariffs, auctions, and other measures, but they also created strong manufacturing capabilities through preferential credit and land policies and local content rules.
2016 is the most recent year for which complete renewable energy employment estimates are available for Europe. IRENA estimates that the number of jobs reached 1.27 million . The solid biomass and wind power industries have the largest workforces, with about 389 000 and 344 000 jobs respectively. Biofuels follow with about 200 000, and biogas with 71 000 jobs; altogether, bioenergy employs some 660 000 people. Solar PV employment has been cut in half from 220 000 to just under 100 000 in the space of five years, reflecting reduced domestic installations and lagging competitiveness in module manufacturing. The remaining technologies — hydro, solar water heating, geothermal energy and CSP — together employ about 140 000 people.
Europe’s wind industry is a global technology leader, especially in the offshore segment, where the continent’s 15.8 GW of installed capacity at the end of 2017 represented 84% of the global total
The wind power sector is Europe’s brightest spot. According to Global Wind Energy Council data , of the ten countries with the largest installed wind capacity in the world, half are European. During 2017, four EU countries — Germany, the United Kingdom, France and Belgium — were among the ten that added the most capacity worldwide. IRENA estimates EU wind power employment in 2016 at close to 344 000, a 10% increase over 2015. Germany represented nearly half of this total, followed by the United Kingdom, Denmark, the Netherlands, France and Spain
Europe’s wind industry is a global technology leader, especially in the offshore segment, where the continent’s 15.8 GW  of installed capacity at the end of 2017 represented 84%  of the global total. Export markets hold considerable importance, yet competition is intensifying internationally and various incentives for localisation are reshaping the supply chain. More than 80%  of European wind firms have either a manufacturing or commercial presence in other parts of the world.
With some 325 000 jobs, Germany continues to have Europe’s largest renewable energy workforce. The United Kingdom ranks second, followed by France, Poland, Spain and Italy. But the contrast between Germany’s wind and solar PV sectors couldn’t be more stark. The country’s 160 000-strong wind workforce is equal to the number of wind power employees in the next ten largest European markets combined. However, the loss of competitiveness in PV manufacturing and the contraction of domestic installations (annual capacity additions fell from a peak  of between 7.4 and 7.6 GW in 2010-2012 to 1.75 GW in 2017) translated into the loss of three quarters of the 142 700 jobs that existed in 2011.
Source: ©Agafapaperiapunta - istockphoto.com
With adequate policy support, European and global renewable energy deployment will continue to drive the low-carbon energy transition and generate growing numbers of jobs. IRENA’s work on Leveraging Local Capacity indicates that a typical 50 MW solar PV plant requires a total of close to 230 000 person-days  of work along the entire value chain, from project planning and equipment manufacturing to construction and installation, operations and maintenance, and finally decommissioning. An onshore wind farm of the same size requires about 144 000 person-days . Offshore wind farms are typically of much greater size than onshore installations. A 500 MW facility requires some 2.10 million person-days  of work.
The role of renewables in the European and global energy system keeps expanding, even as the sector undergoes realignments and regional shifts. In line with IRENA’s latest energy transformation scenario , jobs in the sector could rise from 10.3 million in 2017 to 23.6 million in 2030 and 28.8 million in 2050. In addition to deployment and industrial policies, education and training of new workers is essential to avoid skill gaps. Further, to retain skilled and experienced employees, ensuring job quality (attractive wages, good working conditions and opportunities for career advancement) is critical. The transition also needs to embrace fairness, providing adequate adjustment support to fossil fuel-dependent workers and communities.
 IRENA, Renewable Energy and Jobs. Annual Review 2018
 This figure includes direct and indirect employment. However, due to data limitations, only direct employment is included for large hydropower.
 The IRENA estimate for the EU is principally based on data published by EurObserv’ER in its annual State of Renewable Energies in Europe. However, IRENA relies on national renewable energy employment assessments wherever they are available and adjusts the EurObserv’ER estimates accordingly. This is the case for Austria, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom. Further, IRENA excludes
 Global Wind Energy Council: Global Wind Statistics 2017
 Wind Europe, Wind in power 2017: Annual combined onshore and offshore wind energy statistics
 Global Wind Energy Council, Global Wind 2017 Report: A snapshot of top wind markets in 2017 – Offshore Wind
 Wind Europe and Deloitte, Local impact, global leadership: The impact of wind energy on jobs and the EU economy, 2017
 IRENA, Renewable energy benefits: Leveraging local capacity for solar PV, 2017
 IRENA, Renewable energy benefits: Leveraging local capacity for onshore wind, 2017
 IRENA, Renewable energy benefits: Leveraging capacity for offshore wind, 2018
 IRENA, Global Energy Transformation: A roadmap to 2050, 2018