Two countries dominate world’s green energy workforce, report says

HOUSTON — China and Brazil lead the world in renewable energy employment, hosting nearly half of all green energy jobs, according to a new research report.

Worldwide, about 5.7 million people worked in the renewable energy sector in 2012 directly or indirectly, the International Renewable Energy Agency estimates in a report released this week. Of those, nearly one in three is based in China. Another 14 percent are in Brazil.

The United States is home to the world’s third largest renewable energy workforce, with about one in 10 of the world’s green energy jobs.

IRENA, an intergovernmental organization based in Abu Dhabi, concluded that the world’s renewable energy jobs could more than triple by 2030 if supportive policies, training and educational opportunities are expanded.

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“Around the world, policy makers are pursuing renewable energy technologies not only for greater energy security or environmental considerations, but also for the socioeconomic benefits they generate,” the report noted. “The renewable energy sector has become a significant employer, with the potential for adding millions of jobs worldwide in the coming years.”

The study considered jobs involved in manufacturing equipment, producing feedstocks and installing production capacity for power, transportation, buildings, and industry.

Solar soars

Biofuels and solar photovoltaics dominate renewable energy jobs, with about 1.4 million each in 2012, according to data in the report. In particular, employment in solar photovoltaics has soared, multiplying 13 times between 2007 and 2012.

That outpaced growth in the wind industry. Wind power employed about 753,000 people in 2012, more than doubling over the previous five years.

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However, IRENA projects that bioenergy will lead job growth in renewables, adding 9.7 million people to its payrolls by 2030 if supportive policies and training are put in place. By comparison, the group says wind would add 2.1 million jobs globally and solar photovoltaics would add 2 million.

Brazil’s biofuels

In China, solar power dominates the green energy workforce while the vast majority of Brazil’s renewable energy jobs are in biofuels, IRENA found.

Solar energy, both photovoltaics and heating/cooling, employs about 1.1 million of China’s 1.7 million renewable energy workers. Meanwhile, Brazil is home to about 58 percent of the world’s 1.4 million biofuels jobs, according to the report.

United States

The renewable energy industry in the United States is more diversified. The largest portion of green energy workers — about 35 percent — are employed in the biofuels sector. Biomass employs the next largest share, about 25 percent, IRENA found.

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“The United States has seen overall expansion in renewable energy jobs, although wind and bioethanol employment have fluctuated,” the report said. “During 2012, a combination of factors led to another drop in [bioethanol] employment — among them soaring feedstock prices, withering yields under severe drought conditions, and lower demand due to the economic crisis.”

The solar industry — including photovoltaics, heating/cooling, and concentrated solar power — employs about 119,000 people in the United States, or 19 percent of the nation’s renewable energy workforce. The rest of U.S. green energy jobs are in wind (13 percent), geothermal (6 percent) and small hydropower (1 percent), according to the report.

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