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The green jobs bonanza is already here

The renewable energy transition promises to create tens of millions of jobs, but the UK risks missing out unless skills and training are prioritised.

By Nick Ferris

Renewable energy infrastructure is being built at a rate that even the most optimistic analysts would have thought fantastical. The latest renewables market report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that in 2022 renewable capacity will grow globally by 350-400 gigawatts (GW) worldwide (the entire UK power grid is around 75 GW).

From 2022 to 2027 the IEA now predicts that, spurred by the energy crisis that followed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, renewables will grow by a 2,400 GW. That’s 85 per cent more than the the previous five years, and 30 per cent more than what was forecast in the equivalent 2021 report.

The renewables data is a rare positive at the end of a year in which climate news has been dominated by record floods in Pakistan to record droughts in Europe, as well as the failure to make significant progress at the Cop27 UN climate conference in Egypt. It shows that the net-zero emissions pledges that now cover more 90 per cent of the global economy are leading to tangible change.

For ordinary people, one of the clearest benefits of this massive shift in our energy supply is the new employment opportunity that is becoming available. It is far bigger than what has come before in the energy sector: The UK Energy Research Centre projects that the renewables industry will create three times as many jobs per million pounds invested than the fossil fuels industry.

[See also: The green transition can unlock 40,000 new businesses and £175bn

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The promised jobs boom is already here. A total of 12.7 million people were employed in renewable energy worldwide in 2021, which up 700,000 on 2020 and nearly double the figure for a decade ago. 

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The biggest market for renewables jobs is China, where 0.7 per cent of the total workforce (5,368,000 people) were employed in the sector in 2021, followed by Brazil, with 1.3 per cent of the workforce (1,272,000 people). China now holds 63 per cent of global jobs in the photovoltaic (PV) panel industry, while Brazil is a leader in biofuels, which provide two-thirds of the country’s renewables jobs. The next biggest markets are India (863,000 jobs), the US (923,000 jobs) and the EU (1,939,000 jobs), according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena). 

It is not just the world’s biggest economies that are reaping the benefits. In 2023 Nigeria’s decentralised renewable job market is set to exceed 76,000, up from 32,000 in 2019, and overtake the country's oil industry, according to the campaign Power for All.

The world can expect to have 38.2 million jobs in renewable energy by 2030, says Irena, if countries stick to their climate promises. There are also other employment opportunities in other sectors. The hydrogen, power system management, electric vehicle and energy efficiency sectors could collectively employ a further 74.2 million people by 2030. 

In the UK 1.2 million direct jobs and 1.5 million indirect jobs in energy efficiency could be created by the middle of the century if £7bn were invested each year between now and 2050 to retrofit the country’s buildings for net-zero, according to 2022 analysis from the progressive think tank the Institute for Public Policy Research. The authors warn, however, that such job creation is not guaranteed. New training programmes and skills academies, as well as improved job standards and skills accreditation systems, need to be introduced for the UK to maximise employment opportunities. 

After years of underfunding the UK government signalled a greater prioritisation of energy efficiency during the Autumn Statement by Jeremy Hunt, the Chancellor, in November. It was announced that the annual government energy efficiency investment in both buildings and industry would be increased by £6bn from 2025.

[See also: A new renewables boom is coming]

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