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Clean energy jobs: Here’s what happened in 2020, and what’s coming

Clean energy employment reached 12 million globally in 2020, up from 11.5 million in 2019, according to a report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and the International Labour Organization (ILO), the eighth edition of “Renewable Energy and Jobs: Annual Review 2021.”

The report confirms what we all know about the pandemic: that COVID-19 caused – and continues to cause – delays and supply chain disruptions, with impacts on jobs varying by country and end-use, and among segments of the value chain. But ultimately, the number of jobs still grew.

Indeed, clean energy jobs have been on a steady upward trajectory since 2012, when the annual review commenced, when there were 7.3 million employed by the sector globally.

In 2020, solar and wind jobs continued to lead global employment growth in the clean energy sector, accounting for a total of 4 million and 1.25 million jobs, respectively.

China commanded the largest share of clean energy jobs worldwide in 2020, with a 39% share, or 4.73 million jobs. The EU followed (1.3 million), then Brazil (1.2 million), the US (838,400), and India (726,000).

Other countries are also creating jobs in renewables, such as Vietnam and Malaysia, which are key solar PV exporters; Indonesia and Colombia, with large agricultural supply chains for biofuels; and Mexico and Russia, where wind power is growing.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, solar jobs are expanding in countries such as Nigeria, Togo, and South Africa.

Here’s a snapshot of what happened by sector:

Solar. The solar PV workforce expanded to 4 million workers from 3.8 million in 2019. Record installations were somewhat offset by growing labor productivity in utility-scale projects and reductions of in-person sales.

Wind. Wind power employment increased slightly from 1.2 million in 2019 to 1.25 million in 2020. The offshore wind segment is growing.

Hydropower. Hydropower saw employment jump from 1.96 million in 2019 to 2.18 million in 2020.

Biofuels. Biofuels jobs worldwide fell slightly to 2.4 million (from 2.5 million), owing to pandemic-driven reductions in demand, lower prices for fossil fuels used in transport, and adverse policy changes.

Electric vehicles and green hydrogen. Energy transition technologies such as batteries for electric vehicles and green hydrogen are expected to become major job creators. Electrolyzers and other green hydrogen infrastructure could create about 2 million jobs globally from 2030 to 2050.

ILO director-general Guy Ryder said:

The potential for renewable energy to generate decent work is a clear indication that we do not have to choose between environmental sustainability on the one hand, and employment creation on the other. The two can go hand-in-hand.

And this may be the most crucial nugget of information, for those who are under the impression that clean energy is going to eliminate jobs (share it with your doubting friends):

IRENA and ILO’s work finds that more jobs will be created by the energy transition than
lost. An ILO global sustainability scenario to 2030 estimates that 25 million new jobs far
surpass losses of nearly 7 million jobs. Some 5 million workers who lose their jobs will be
able to find new jobs in the same occupation in another industry.

Read more: US solar sets records in 2020, predicted to quadruple by 2030

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Avatar for Michelle Lewis Michelle Lewis

Michelle Lewis is a writer and editor on Electrek and an editor on DroneDJ, 9to5Mac, and 9to5Google. She lives in White River Junction, Vermont. She has previously worked for Fast Company, the Guardian, News Deeply, Time, and others. Message Michelle on Twitter or at Check out her personal blog.