Around 6.5 million people were employed by the renewable energy industry worldwide at the end of 2013, according to figures from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).
The organisation said its report underlined the important and growing role renewables were playing in job creation and the global economy. The figures increased from the 5.7 million recorded in 2012, representing a significant 14% rise.
Adnan Amin, IRENA director general, commented, “With 6.5 million people directly or indirectly employed in renewable energy, the sector is proving that it is no longer a niche, it has become a significant employer worldwide.”
The largest sector in terms of employees was solar, with 2.27 million people currently working in this sector. The solar industry has benefitted from falling costs and soaring demand in China and Japan. IRENA estimates that solar installation in China has increased fivefold since 2011 and as a result some Chinese manufacturers are now adding capacity.
Biofuels and wind, which accounted for 1.45 million and 830,000 respectively, followed solar. Less popular technologies, such as hydropower and geothermal, still represent a very small portion of the renewable energy sector but demonstrate its potential to continue growing rapidly.
Nationally, China was the largest employer, followed by the US, India, Germany, Spain and Bangladesh. The report notes that over the course of 2013 there were regional shifts from developed countries to emerging nations, suggesting that poorer countries are embracing the stability and security renewables can offer.
In contrast to the global trend, renewable jobs in the UK have decreased, according to the latest figures from the Renewable Energy Association (REA). In 2012/13 the organisation estimated that 103,000 people were employed in renewable, a fall from the 110,000 estimated in 2010/11. REA noted that the fall was largely down to job losses in the small scale solar industry.
The renewable energy industry currently accounts for around 4.2% of the UK’s energy mix following private investment of £29.8 billion since 2010. This figure is expected to grow to £64.4 billion by 2020, suggesting that jobs within the sector will rapidly increase by the end of the decade.