Renewable Energy — creating jobs for local communities

By Simon Corbell

Clean, green energy is now transforming the global economy. Large scale solar and wind energy generation are increasingly delivering the cheapest new forms of electricity generation available. Global supply chains are growing fast, creating millions of jobs as they export components for wind and solar technologies around the world. 9.8 million people were employed in the renewable energy sector globally in 2016. By 2030 it is projected global employment will reach 24 million.

China dominates the development of solar photovoltaic (PV) cells, and the fundamental transformation and reduction in cost for solar PV cells has been as a result of the scale of its manufacturing sector as well as the size of its domestic market. China continues to install each year more renewable energy generation than the rest of Europe and the Asia Pacific combined. But there is more to the story than the creation of the massive Chinese solar technology sector alone. Where else are the jobs coming from in the renewable energy sector, and how can we make sure that local communities benefit?

The answer is in maintenance, home grown supply chains and smart start-ups, which through thoughtful policy and strong leadership (just like in China) can be developed once a country or region has a clear pathway to support renewable energy development . In the United States for example jobs in solar energy grew by 25% between 2015–2016, to a total of 260,000 people. Importantly close to 50% of these jobs were in parts of the solar industry other than in installation.

Jobs involved in solar panel installation on rooftops or as part of large solar farms made up over 50% of all US solar jobs, but close behind was the 46% of jobs in sectors such as manufacturing, project development, research and development and sales. These are sectors that will continue to grow, providing for diversification of the skills base and growing capacity for the export of solar development know how around the world.

In Australia too local supply chains are growing and investment is being directed to local communities. The growth of steel tower manufacturing for the wind industry has seen a jobs boom in regional areas, as governments have mandated the use of local steel and other components to support local jobs . For small regional centres, these long term skilled jobs are vital to the health of local communities.

In developing economies these actions can be even more important. In South Africa renewable energy jobs grew to over 26,000 by 2016, and the use of local content rules as part of the South African governments renewable energy policies had seen the creation of jobs in solar inverter manufacturing, supply and assembly, grid connection and civil works sectors. In other parts of Africa innovative off grid solar start-up businesses, providing solar generation solutions for large areas without grid connections are now creating 600 new jobs annually, or 40 jobs a month!

Supporting more opportunities for renewable energy development means creating more jobs, many of them in regional and developing, as well as developed, economies. By bringing together the ambitions of local communities with investors, developers and technology providers, initiatives like the Transcendence platform, and many others, can help grow these opportunities, delivering clean, low cost electricity, and contributing to creating a more sustainable future for everyone.

Simon Corbell is Renewable Energy & Sustainable Development Advisor for Transcendence Network

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