Jobs in renewable energy expanding.

AuthorRenner, Michael

Driven by the gathering sense of a climate crisis, the notion of "green jobs"--especially in the renewable energy sector--is receiving unprecedented attention. At least 2.3 million people worldwide work either directly in renewables or in supplier industries, including roughly 300,000 in the wind power industry, 170,000 in the solar photovoltaics (PV) sector, and 624,000 in the solar thermal industry. More than I million jobs are found in the biomass and biofuels sector. Small-scale hydropower and geothermal energy are far smaller employers.

Renewables tend to be a more labor-intensive energy source than the still-dominant fossil fuels, which rely heavily on expensive pieces of production equipment. A transition toward renewables thus promises job gains. Even in the absence of such a transition, growing automation and corporate consolidation are already translating into steadily fewer jobs in the oil, natural gas, and coal industries--sometimes even in the face of expanding production. Many hundreds of thousands of coal mining jobs have been shed in China, the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, and South Africa in the last decade or two. In the United States, coal output rose by almost one-third during the past two decades, yet employment has been cut in half.

A handful of countries has emerged as leaders in renewables development, thanks to strong government support. In 2006 Germany had some 259,000 direct and indirect jobs in the renewables sector, a number expected to reach up to 500,000 by 2020 and 710,000 by 2030. Spain's renewables industries now employ some 89,000 people directly (mostly in wind power and PV) and another 99,000 indirectly. Denmark, long a leader in wind development, has offered less steadfast policy support in recent years and the number of wind jobs has stagnated at about 21,000. U.S. federal policies have been weak and inconsistent over the years, but one study still found that in 2006 the renewables sector employed nearly 200,000 people directly and another 246,000 indirectly.

India's Suzlon, one of the world's leading wind turbine manufacturers, currently employs more than 13,000 people directly. China is rapidly catching up in solar PV and wind turbine manufacturing and is already the dominant force in solar hot water and small hydropower development. Roughly 1 million people in China work in the renewables sector, some 600,000 of them in the solar thermal industry.

The leaders in renewables...

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