The latest attempt to flesh out the employment benefits of a global energy transition has suggested the 57 million jobs estimated in the energy system last year could more than double, to 134 million, by mid century, if a zero carbon world is attained.
Academics from Finland's Lappeenranta-Lahti University of Technology (LUT) and the Austral University of Chile, have published a study which estimates the solar industry will support 60 million direct jobs by 2050, up from around 7 million last year.
The Job creation during a climate compliant global energy transition across the power, heat, transport, and desalination sectors by 2050 paper, published in this month's Energy and on the ScienceDirect website, estimates solar will account for 45% of the net jobs generated worldwide as fossil fuels and nuclear are phased out in favor of renewables. Of those PV positions, the study states, 44 million will be in the large scale electricity generation segment and 16 million supported by prosumer arrays.
pv magazine’s UP Initiative spent the last quarter looking at what solar and energy storage companies can do to lead by a positive example when it comes to the workers, often far removed, involved in the production of their products and services. Supply chain traceability and polysilicon provenance were the key topics considered.
The solar job numbers compare to an estimated 5% of the total to be contributed by wind power, with the authors of the study predicting 8 million wind jobs up to 2025 before the number falls back to 5-6 million out to mid century. The change will come when photovoltaic technology becomes more cost-effective than wind turbines some time around the middle of the decade, according to the paper.
The study's authors say their figures are more accurate than previous attempts to quantify the employment benefits of the switch to renewables because they include the direct job-creation benefits of the heating, transport and desalination sectors as well as the number of roles to be generated in electricity transmission and distribution. The figures also include the jobs to be generated by fossil fuel and nuclear generation, principally in the field of decommissioning such facilities.
The authors note, however, that while their estimates include heat and energy storage and power-to-X technologies such as green hydrogen production, the numbers do not include jobs which could be generated by privately-owned electric vehicles (EVs).
Delving into the numbers, the LUT paper estimates power generation will support 69 million jobs in mid century, up from 20 million last year, with heating to supply 28 million posts by that point, electricity grids around 22 million, storage technologies around 10 million and fuels 5 million. Operations and maintenance jobs will account for around 42 million jobs in 2050, stated the paper, alongside more than 40 million construction and installation roles, and more than 23 million manufacturing positions, up from 6 million last year.
The key factor in the anticipated employment bounty is an estimate the 563 final-energy-demand-specific jobs supported by each TWh of power generated last year will rise to 1,000 roles in mid-century, reflecting the oft-repeated estimate renewables are more labor-intensive than fossil fuel and nuclear facilities.
The study's authors claim to have included estimates of the effect of automation in their calculations by reducing labor-intensity as the capital and operational expenses of renewables decrease, with the paper stating: “Job creation can be expected to reduce as technologies, and production of those technologies, mature.” The likelihood post-energy-transition roles will be, on average, better qualified than those held in energy last year was posited as a good thing, with the authors of the paper claiming greater training demand can be met by good policies.
Inevitably, the LUT study suggests the jobs dividend will not be universally even across the nine regions into which the report divides the globe. For instance, Eurasia; the Middle East and North Africa (MENA); South America; and sub-Saharan Africa can all expect to have fewer direct, energy-related manufacturing jobs in 2050 than they had last year, with the academics indicating the latter would suffer the steepest fall without offering a figure in the abstract to the full paper.
By contrast, northeast Asia can expect to have 600,000 more such positions by mid-century, with South Asia experiencing a 400,000-job uplift, Europe gaining 270,000 positions, and South East Asia and North America advancing by 210,000 and 73,000 posts, respectively.
The fossil fuel-dependent nature of regions such as MENA, Eurasia and South Asia means such areas will account for a smaller share of the world's energy jobs in three decades' time, according to the study, although the authors were at pains to point out the absolute job numbers are expected to balloon because of that labor-intensity gain.
Europe, which last year accounted for 7% of the jobs across the sectors considered by the paper, will be a big winner, with its slice of the pie rising to an estimated 12% in 2050. North America will maintain its 10% share, according to the LUT document, with south and northeast Asia combined slipping just a little, from “over 50%” of such energy roles last year to “just below 50%” in 2050. Those plateaus amount to the 5 million roles in North America last year rising to 12 million and the volume of jobs doubling in the two Asian regions mentioned.
MENA; Southeast Asia and the Pacific; and South America will all see their proportions of total direct energy jobs fall 2% even as absolute job numbers leap, and Eurasia will see its 8% share last year retreat to 7% in 2050. No global share was offered for sub-Saharan Africa in the abstract of the paper but the authors noted that region would see the biggest benefit in absolute numbers from the energy transition, with last year's 2 million energy-dependent workers in the region becoming a 12 million-strong workforce in mid-century.
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