IRENA: 36% renewables share to boost GDP by $1.2 trillion, create 14 million jobs

Providing incentive, particularly for the naysayers, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) report, Renewable Energy Benefits: Measuring the Economics, has calculated that doubling the share of renewables from today to 2030, to 36%, would see gross domestic product grow between 0.6% and 1.1%, or roughly $700 billion and $1.3 trillion.

"Most of these positive impacts on GDP are driven by the increased investment in renewable energy deployment, which triggers ripple effects throughout the economy. If the doubling of the renewable share is achieved through a higher rate of electrification of final energy uses, the increase in global GDP is even higher, amounting to some 1.1%, or USD 1.3 trillion globally," says IRENA.

Overall, the report – said to be the first global quantification of the macroeconomic impacts of renewable energy deployment – presents the business, and social, case for accelerating the deployment of renewables, based on technological advances and growing cost-comparativeness.

"It provides empirical evidence that economic growth and environmental conservation are fully compatible, and that the conventional consideration of trade-offs between the two is outdated and erroneous," write the authors.

IRENA concludes that Japan would benefit the most from a 36% share of renewables, at 2.3% (on the back of "large investment" in solar PV and a "substantial" reduction in fossil fuel imports), but that Australia, Brazil, Germany, Mexico, South Africa and South Korea would also each experience GDP growth of over 1%.

In addition to environmental benefits, increasing the share of renewables would also provide a number of social advantages, including improving global welfare by up to 3.7%. Employment, meanwhile, could realistically grow from 9.2 million jobs today, to 24 million over the next 14 years. Under its calculations, China would remain the leading renewables employer.

"… solar PV creates at least twice the number of jobs per unit of electricity generated compared with coal or natural gas. As a result, substituting fossil fuels for renewables could lead to a higher number of jobs overall."

IRENA states that solar PV is the largest employer, accounting for 2.5 million jobs in 2014. Meanwhile, going forward, India alone is expected to create 1.1 million jobs under its plans to install 100 GW of solar by 2022. Overall, IRENA calculates that up to 7.2 million jobs could be created in the solar industry by 2030.

Also impacted would be coal imports – by almost half – and oil and gas imports, thus forcing trade patterns to shift, and new markets and opportunities to open. Large energy importers, like Japan, India, Korea and the European Union, would be the main benefactors here, says IRENA. "Fossil fuel exporting countries would also benefit from a diversified economy," it added.

"Mitigating climate change through the deployment of renewable energy and achieving other socio-economic targets is no longer an either or equation," stated director general, Adnan Z. Amin. "Thanks to the growing business case for renewable energy, an investment in one is an investment in both. That is the definition of a win-win scenario."