Solar Now Employs More than Oil & Gas in US
May 26, 2016
The number of U.S. jobs in solar energy overtook those in oil and natural gas extraction for the first time last year, helping drive a global surge in employment in the clean-energy business as fossil-fuel companies faltered.
Employment in the U.S. solar business grew 12 times faster than overall job creation, the International Renewable Energy Agency said in a report on Wednesday. About 8.1 million people worldwide had jobs in the clean energy in 2015, up from 7.7 million in 2014, according to the industry group based in Abu Dhabi.
Solar Power now has more employees than either the Oil & Gas or Coal Extraction industries in the United States. The solar industry employed approximately 208,000 individuals at the end of 2015 versus 185,000+ in oil and gas, or 190,000 in coal extraction. Solar power employment is expected to grow an additional 15% in 2016 to almost 240,000 individuals. Globally, solar power now directly employs 2.8 million people as the largest renewable energy employer.
The report was put together by Bloomberg, who highlighted a big data release regarding global renewable energy jobs by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and complimented that with oil/gas/coal data by the US Bureau of Statistics. This information is very specific to the extraction portion of the process in oil/gas/coal – as total supporting jobs in other industries are very significant and sometimes hard to define (gas station counter worker?).
A boom in solar and wind power jobs in the US led the way to a global increase in renewable energy employment to more than 8 million people in 2015, according to a report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena).
More than 769,000 people were employed in renewable energy in the US in 2015, dwarfing the 187,000 employed in the oil and gas sector and the 68,000 in coal mining. The gap is set to grow further, with jobs in solar and wind growing by more than 20% in 2015, while oil and gas jobs fell by 18% as the fossil fuel industry struggled with low prices.
Across the world, employment in renewable energy grew by 5% in 2015, boosted by supportive government policies and subsidies including tax credits in the US, although jobs in renewables fell in Europe. The growth was despite renewable energy subsidies being far outweighed by subsidies for fossil fuels, where jobs were lost.
Another contrast, according to the Irena report, is the greater proportion of women employed in renewable energy compared to the wider energy sector. Irena found 35% of renewable energy sector jobs were held by women, compared to 20-25% in the wider energy sector, although the agency noted the renewables percentage remains lower than women’s overall share in employment of 40-50% in most OECD countries.
Renewables employment fell in the European Union for the fourth year running, due to the Eurozone economic crisis and the cutting of subsidies and other support. The UK employed 112,000 people in renewables in 2015, according to Irena. The report said: “The UK became the continent’s largest [solar panel] installation market, and the second-largest [solar] employer with 35,000 people. However, cuts in feed-in tariffs for residential rooftops in the UK could result in a loss of 4,500 to 8,700 solar jobs according to UK government’s own estimates.
Irena director general, Adnan Amin, said: “The continued job growth in the [global] renewable energy sector is significant because it stands in contrast to trends across the energy sector.” He said the increase is being driven by rapidly falling costs for renewable energy and expect the trend to continue as renewables become ever more competitive and as countries move to achieve the targets pledged in a global climate change deal agreed in Paris in December.
“Even without a price on carbon, renewable energy is competing with dirty energy and winning,” said Ben Schreiber, at Friends of the Earth US. “The question isn’t whether renewable energy supplants fossil fuels, but whether fossil fuels companies can delay the transition long enough to destroy the climate.”