Australia: renewables jobs fall, solar PV accounts for 50% of total

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The effects of policy uncertainty regarding renewable deployment on job creation have been demonstrated in the latest renewable energy job figures released by the ABS today. Australia lost 470 jobs in the renewable sector YoY, bringing the total to 14,020 in 2014-15. The ABS’s Director of Environmental Statistics, Mark Lound, noted that the figures are the continuation of a trend that commenced in 2011-12.

"Solar energy (including roof-top solar PV, solar hot water, and large scale solar PV) is the most significant source of employment among renewable energy activities,” said Lound in a statement. “In 2014-15 annual full-time-equivalent employment in solar was 8,310 or 59% of total employment in renewable energy activities. Employment in solar energy peaked at 14,350 in 2011-12."

The Australian financial year runs from 1 July through 30 June.

The ABS noted that electricity production in Australia fell by 2.2% between 2009-10 and 2013-14 while power from renewables rose 68.3%.

“At its peak in 2011-12, employment in electricity from selected renewables was 27% of the level of employment observed for the electricity supply industry,” the ABS notes.

The decrease of jobs in the renewable sector across states was not uniform, with the states where there are limited hydro assets and biomass sectors hardest hit. South Australia, with its formerly robust wind industry, saw renewables jobs fall by 60%, Western Australia 51% and Queensland 36% over four years. These losses were partially offset by small jobs gains in the Australian Capital Territory, which has benefited from a territory government large scale renewables programs, the Northern Territory and New South Wales. The number of government and non-government organization jobs related to renewables grew over the same period.

The Clean Energy Council’s Kane Thornton told the Guardian Australia that he expects renewables jobs to increase when the next set of figures are released. He noted that certainty had been returned to Australia’s Renewable Energy Target and the shift in government sentiment after Malcolm Turnbull replaced Tony Abbott as Prime Minister.

Solar Citizens, an Australian solar industry lobby group, said that the ABS data reveals that Prime Minister Turnbull must now move from rhetoric to action on renewables.

“The Australian renewable industry is still being held back by uncertainty over government policy and investment,” said Solar Citizens’ Claire O’Rourke in a statement today. “The bill seeking to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) is still in play – it is a potential trigger for a double dissolution election [which would result in both House of Representatives and Senate being dissolved and re-elected] but more importantly creates uncertainty for the orderly development of renewable energy technologies and projects.”

The CEFC is rolling out a debt-finance program to provide financial backing for PV power plant projects, complementary to the Australian Renewable Energy Agency’s large scale renewables program.