China’s National Energy Administration (NEA) has announced that all construction projects for new coal power plants will be cancelled, effective immediately. Instead, the NEA is investing $361 billion into expanding renewable energy technologies in an effort to reduce the crippling smog levels in many cities in China. The number of coal power stations that will be halted, according to Reuters, is “over 100”.
The Independent predicts that the move from coal to renewable power will reportedly generate 13 million jobs in the renewable energy sector in China.
The job losses in the coal industry will be extensive, but the plan is to retrain these workers for the oncoming renewables revolution. The reality, however, may not be quite as clear cut or as rosy as hoped.
Australian experts seemingly have a different story to tell when it comes to renewable energy employment. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reported that there had been a 16% drop in employment in June of 2016.
According to ABS’ research, the employment in renewable energy activities was estimated as follows:
No. of employees
Olivia Kembler, the Head of Policy at the Climate Institute said, “A 16% decline since last year, following after several years of falling job numbers, is a direct result of the government’s failure to set a national strategy for clean, modern energy. That costs us in terms of higher prices, less reliable and more polluting power, but we should also recognize it costs us in terms of the thousands of new jobs that we could have but don’t.”
However, the Minister of Environment and Energy, Josh Frydenberg, said that the figures were not wholly correct. He said that the Australian Renewable Energy Agency was about to announce developments that would lead to 2300 new jobs in the renewable industry - just as the ‘record low’ numbers were reported.
The job situation in the renewable energy sector needs to be monitored – projections of huge growth in employment have not panned out. In Australia small-scale solar installations are on the rise, not the large-scale ones. And yet it is the latter that require labour, alongside their inevitable maintenance issues.
Researchers at Greentech Media Research, a media company that publishes daily reports on the renewable energy sector, are optimistic about the future employment prospects for the global electricity market.
They report that they have seen an annual growth of 50% across the global solar market. They have also reported on “major mergers and acquisitions in energy storage companies, and utilities spending billions of dollars in renewable energy technologies”.
The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) reported that from 2012 to 2015, renewable energy employment figures rose by 6%. Their bolder claim is outlined in the report: ‘Now Hiring: The Growth of America’s Clean Energy & Sustainability Jobs’:
“Solar and wind jobs have grown at rates of about 20% annually in recent years and are each creating jobs at a rate 12 times faster than that of the rest of the U.S. economy”.
The Solar Foundation performed a census of Americans working in the solar energy industry and found that there had been more than 260,000 working professionals actively working in the industry. The figure was three times it was in 2010.
The important question to ask is, ‘Will jobs in the renewable energy sector be retained?’ Some argue that the key to ensuring demand for jobs in this sector continue to rise is up to the government of the day, but automation technologies may yet replace some of those which are presently using manpower.
“Substation automation, decades ago, removed the need for workers at substations to carry out hour to hour adjustments in the control settings of the grid,” A GTM Researcher told social media site Reddit during a Q&A session.
Automation has been, and will be, a force that replaces the more rudimentary jobs in the energy generation industry.
He went on to say: “Distribution automation is increasingly reducing the number of truck rolls (and with it man-hours) required to manually isolate faults in the grid. Furthermore, new customer service technologies are reducing the need for call center employees - a primary driver of costs within utility retail operations.”
Another researcher at GSM offered a comment about automation as well:
“I’d add that while automation has an effect on the solar market, most jobs scale with demand. Automation is at play in the factory, where modules, inverters, and other solar equipment are manufactured. However, selling those components and installing systems requires real people talking to customers, designing projects, and getting out in the field to build them.”
Finding a job in the green collar sector - as it is being called - has also been a question amongst engineering professionals who want to get involved with what seems like the next big thing. Experts from GTM Research say the key to finding employment in the industry is a combination of networking and ‘developing passion projects’ and showcasing your interests and abilities to future employers.
"Home | Environmental Defense Fund." Home | Environmental Defense Fund. Web. 20 Mar. 2017.
"We Are GTM Research, a Market Analysis Firm Focused on the Transformation of the Global Electricity Industry. AMA • R/Futurology." Reddit. Web. 20 Mar. 2017. The Australian.
https://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/technology/renewable-energy-sector-employment-falls-abs-figures-say/news-story/0d06f72f928e427f0cd983cc1910e6ee"China Halts over 100 Coal-fired Power Projects: Caixin." Reuters. Thomson Reuters, 16 Jan. 2017. Web. 18 Jan. 2017.