Worldwide Jobs in Renewable Energy Surge to 8.1 Million. Where Does Canada Fit in?

All around the world, more people are working in the renewable energy industry than ever before due to more affordable clean energy and new policies, according to a new report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). Canada ranks eleventh globally, according to IRENA, with 36,000 renewable energy sector jobs.

Growth in the sector is impressive, but Canada isn’t keeping pace with the U.S., which has 769,000 renewable-related jobs, a much higher population percentage.

The report, released Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, found that more than 8.1 million people worldwide are employed in renewable energy, an increase of more than five per cent over the previous year.

The annual increase is down from the 18 per cent growth reported the previous year, but that is largely because of mechanization as industries grow, the report’s author Rabia Ferroukhi said, adding the fluctuating trends are difficult to analyze.

Slowing housing markets and the removal of subsidies also affected jobs in hydropower, liquid biofuels and solar.

“While the growth in jobs slowed compared to previous years, the total number of jobs in renewables worldwide continued to rise, in stark contrast with depressed labour markets in the broader energy sector,” the report says.

IRENA Director-General Adnan Z Amin said that contrast makes the continuing growth significant.

“This increase is being driven by declining renewable energy technology costs and enabling policy frameworks,” he said.

“We expect this trend to continue as the business case for renewable strengthens and as countries move to achieve their climate targets agreed in Paris.”

In the U.S., renewable energy jobs increased by six per cent while employment in oil and gas declined by 18 per cent and in China renewable energy now employs 3.5 million people while oil and gas employs 2.6 million.

IRENA’s research estimates that doubling the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix by 2030, which would be sufficient to meet global climate and development targets, would result in more than 24-million jobs worldwide, Amin said.

Canada has 36,000 people working in renewable energy industries, with 10,000 in wind, 8,000 in solar photovoltaic and the remainder mainly in biofuels, Ferroukhi said.

A Clean Energy Canada report released in February shows Canada is falling behind its major trading partners in renewable energy investment, with spending declining by half last year while U.S. spending was up seven percent.

Yet Clean Energy Canada policy director Dan Woynillowicz said Canada’s numbers aren’t so bad considering the country’s high baseline renewable energy levels.

“Canada’s domestic market for clean energy is only so big — in part because we already have a significant amount of renewable energy on the grid— and it isn’t growing as quickly as elsewhere,” Woynillowicz told DeSmog Canada.

“Over the past five years the trend in Canada is steady growth in renewable energy investment and deployment, and the jobs that come with it.”

Woynillowicz added 2014 was a record year for renewable energy investment in Canada, and while 2015 was lower, it was the second best year ever.

He added Alberta and Saskatchewan clean energy targets will help drive a new wave of growth in renewables, following a trend started in Ontario, Quebec, B.C. and Atlantic Canada.

Canadian renewable energy companies are also playing a role in the clean energy revolution elsewhere, Woynillowicz said.

“Beyond our domestic market, Canadian companies are benefiting and growing as a result of the significant investment and development happening around the world,” he said.

“Companies like AMP Solar Group Inc. and SkyPower Global are Canadian renewable energy companies that grew up building projects in Canada, but are now investing in India, the Middle East and Africa.” 

A Clean Energy Canada report, Tracking the Energy Revolution—Global, profiles six companies taking advantage of international growth in clean energy markets.

According to the IRENA report, renewable spending in the U.K. and India increased by 23 per cent, China spent 17 per cent more on renewables and Mexico’s investment went up by 114 per cent.

One of the most important elements is for countries to enact enabling and supporting policies to create the right environment for renewable energy industries, Ferroukhi said, including skills training and education.

Image: A solar farm in Brockville, Ontario. Photo: Jonathan Potts/Flickr

Judith Lavoie is an award-winning journalist based in Victoria, British Columbia. Lavoie covered environment and First Nations stories for the…

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