Shift to 100% renewables may lead to nearly 10-fold rise in number of solar jobs by 2050

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New research suggests the solar PV sector could account for 45% of energy jobs in 2050. Image: Image: CS Energy.

The number of jobs across the global solar PV sector could increase almost 10-fold in the next 30 years if the world transitions to derive 100% of its energy from renewables by 2050, new research has suggested.

While there were around 7 million jobs in solar PV last year, this could rise to 60 million by mid-century, meaning the sector would account for 45% of all energy employment positions globally, the study from LUT University in Finland revealed.

With renewable energy being the least-cost source of power generation, renewables would increase to around 75% of total direct energy jobs by 2050, in contrast to about 45% in 2020.  

Titled ‘Job creation during a climate compliant global energy transition across the power, heat, transport, and desalination sectors by 2050’, the study finds that total direct energy jobs associated with those four sectors would increase substantially from about 57 million in 2020 to nearly 134 million by 2050.

“Most of the jobs will be created in construction and installation along with operation and maintenance, supplemented by manufacturing of renewable energy generation, storage and power-to-X technologies,” said researcher Manish Ram from the LUT School of Energy Systems.

Solar PV’s growth would see the sector replace coal as the world’s major job-creating energy resource, with around 87% of total power generation jobs by 2050, the report finds, indicating that renewables can more than compensate for jobs lost in the conventional power industry.

Most of the solar jobs would be in the utility-scale segment, with 44 million jobs in 2050, while the residential, commercial and industrial segment would provide around 16 million positions.

The trends in job creation indicate that the transition towards a 100% renewable energy system enables the creation of more secure and local jobs, which can contribute to the stable economic growth of countries as a means of tackling high unemployment rates.

According to the research, an energy system based on renewables creates nearly twice as many jobs for every unit of energy demand covered, as compared to the current fossil fuels-dominated energy system. 

Out of the total 134 million energy jobs, operations and maintenance represents the largest single segment, with around 42 million positions around the world by 2050, while the construction and installation of energy technologies leads to over 40 million jobs. Energy manufacturing jobs would rise from last year’s level of 6 million to more than 23 million by mid-century.

“Zero greenhouse gas emissions, more jobs, but for the same cost. Our results indicate a steady growth in energy jobs along with a transition towards a highly efficient, affordable, and sustainable energy system,” said Christian Breyer, professor of solar economy at LUT.

The need to boost solar employment in the US was recently noted in a report co-published by the Solar Energy Industries Association that suggested there should be a fourfold increase in the number of solar workers in the country if it is to reach President Biden’s goal of creating a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035.

Following a 2020 that saw solar PV companies in the US shed 8.1% of the workforce due to the impacts from the coronavirus pandemic, employers are expecting to rebound this year, according to the Department of Energy.

In Europe, meanwhile, Meyer Burger and SMA estimate that growing the continent’s solar manufacturing base to 20GW would support more than 100,000 jobs.

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