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Renewable Energy Employs 7.7 Million People Worldwide, Says New IRENA Report

More than 7.7 million people worldwide are now employed by the renewable energy industry, with solar photovoltaic (PV) being the largest renewable energy employer with 2.5 million jobs worldwide, according to a new report released Wednesday by the New York-based International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

The report was released amid a flurry of recent announcements in Arkansas of several wind and solar energy projects that are expected to come online between now and the end of the decade. The total number of global jobs in the renewable sector in 2015 is a 18% increase from last year’s figure of 6.5 million, according to IRENA’s “Renewable Energy and Jobs – Annual Review 2015.”

“Renewable energy continues to assert itself as a major global employer, generating strong economic and social benefits worldwide,” said IRENA Director-General Adnan Z. Amin. “This increase is being driven, in part, by declining renewable energy technology costs, which creates more jobs in installation, operations and maintenance. We expect this upward trend to continue as the business case for renewable energy continues to strengthen.”

As in previous years, renewable energy employment is shaped by regional shifts, industry realignments, growing competition and advances in technologies and manufacturing processes. Jobs in the renewable energy sector are increasingly being created in Asia, with five of the 10 countries with the most renewable energy jobs now located in the region. Still, even with continued jobs growth, the European Union and the United States now represent 25% of global renewable energy jobs, compared to 31% in 2012.

The 10 countries with the largest renewable energy employment figures are China, Brazil, the United States, India, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, France, Bangladesh and Colombia. The solar PV industry is the largest renewable energy employer worldwide with 2.5 million jobs, followed by liquid biofuels with 1.8 million jobs, and wind power, which surpassed one million jobs for the first time this year. The employment increase spreads across the renewable energy spectrum with solar, wind, biofuels, biomass, biogas and small hydropower all seeing increases in employment.

“If we continue to invest in renewable energy and its multiple economic, environmental and social benefits, employment in renewables will continue to climb,” said Amin. “IRENA’s research estimates that doubling the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix by 2030, would result in more than 16 million jobs worldwide.”

ARKANSAS ADDING WIND, SOLAR PROJECTS TO ENERGY PORTFOLIO

Although the IRENA report does not draw out specific projects in the U.S., it does note that employment in the U.S. wind industry is recovering from the sharp downturn suffered in 2013 due to uncertainties surrounding the Production Tax Credit.

Wind energy employment in 2014 was estimated at 73,000, up from 50,500 the previous year, the report said. Construction, project development and transportation accounted for 26,700 jobs, while equipment manufacturing supported 19,200.

On Tuesday, the Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corp. (AECC) said it has secured a long-term agreement for more wind power with the purchase of 108 megawatts of wind energy from the planned Drift Sand Wind Farm. That project will be located about 60 miles southeast of Oklahoma City and is scheduled to be in service by Dec. 31, 2016.

AECC’s newest wind power project will supplement a long-term purchase agreement with The Origin Wind Farm deal announced in November to add 150 megawatts of potential “green power” to its energy portfolio. That wind project, first announced in November, is located in Murray and Carter counties in southeast Oklahoma.

The Origin Wind Farm is owned by the North American subsidiary of the Enel Group, the Europe-based conglomerate that mainly focuses on energy generation from renewables sources. Enel operates some 750 plants in 16 countries across Europe and North America.

The Arkansas cooperative also has a long-term power purchase agreement with BP and Sempra U.S. Gas and Power for 51 megawatts from the Flat Ridge 2 South Wind Farm in Kansas.

On the solar front, AECC is also working with East Camden defense contractor Aerojet Rocketdyne to build and manage a full-scale solar field in South Arkansas, a 12-megawatt project that officials have said will have zero carbon emissions.

Earlier this month, Nashville-based renewable energy provider Silicon Ranch Corp. said it has selected publicly traded First Solar in Tempe, Ariz., to provide power for the solar energy project planned for the Highland Industrial Park in East Camden.

That industrial park is also home to Lockheed Martin’s Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) production facility in East Camden. The Maryland-based defense contractor’s Camden operation is in the running for the much-publicized $30 billion superproject that will be announced this summer by the Pentagon. The next-generation JLTV is being developed by the U.S. Army and the Marine Corps as a successor to the Humvee vehicle.

The East Camden Solar facility is expected to come online in late 2015. That project was expected to be the state’s largest solar energy project until Entergy Arkansas announced plans in April to build an 81-megawatt photovoltaic solar energy generating facility in Arkansas County.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration has forecasted renewables used in the electric power sector to grow by 3% in 2015. EIA expects continued growth in utility-scale solar power generation, which is projected to average 83 GWh/d in 2016. Despite this growth, utility-scale solar power averages only 0.7% of total U.S. electricity generation in 2016.

According to current law, projects coming online after the end of next year will see a federal investment tax credit of 10%, well below the 30% investment tax credit available for projects that come online before the end of 2016. This impending decline in the tax credit provides a strong incentive for projects to enter service before the end of 2016.

That emissions-free solar energy facility, however, is not expected to be connected to Entergy Arkansas’ transmission grid until the end of the decade, if approved by the state Public Service Commission.

Wind capacity, which grew by 8.1% in 2014, is forecasted to increase by 13% in 2015 and by another 11.3% in 2016. Because wind is starting from a much larger base than solar, even though the growth rate is lower, the absolute increase in wind capacity is more than twice that of solar – 17 GW of wind compared with 8 GW of utility-scale solar between 2014 and 2016.

Two full-scale biomass energy projects in Pine Bluff and Monticello with expected capital investments exceeding $200 million are also expected to be operational by the end of 2016. Although both of those plants are expected to employ Arkansas workers, nearly all wood pellets that will be used for power production are expected to be shipped to Europe.

ADDITIONAL FINDINGS

Here are some additional findings from the IRENA report:

  • Solar PV added 200,000 jobs worldwide to a total of 2.5 million jobs, up from 2.3 million at last count in 2015.
  • Wind employment passed the one million jobs mark, up from 834,000 at last count.
  • Liquid biofuels (roughly 1.8 million, up from 1.45 million), modern biomass (822,000, up from 782,000) and biogas (381,000, up from 264,000) are also major employers, with jobs concentrated in feedstock supply.
  • China is the world’s largest renewable energy employer with 3.4 million jobs. China leads global employment in solar PV, wind, solar heating and cooling, small and large hydropower, biomass and biogas.
  • Brazil is the leading employer in biofuels with 845,000 jobs. Its wind industry is also growing rapidly with employment increasing 12 per cent to 35,800 from last count. Wind power capacity has expanded from one GW in 2010 to nearly six GW in 2014 and could reach 16.5 GW in 2019.
  • In the United States, total solar employment surged 22 per cent from 142,700 to 173,800 and overall wind jobs increased 43 per cent since last count to 73,000. Data also finds that employment of women in the solar industry is on the rise, increasing from 26,700 to 37,500.
  • In India, if the government reaches its goal of installing 100 GW of solar PV and 60 GW of wind, it will generate more than 1 million jobs by 2022.
  • Germany is the leading renewable energy employer in Europe with 371,400 jobs. German wind capacity expanded 5.3 GW in 2014, the second highest addition after China.
  • France saw a job reduction of 4 per cent since last count, but still leads Europe in biomass, ground source heat pumps and biofuels employment.