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Jobs in Renewable Energy

Jobs in Renewable Energy

by Felicia Bechtoldt

September 26, 2017

Renewable energy represented 19.3 percent of the global energy consumption in 2015 according to a report from the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century, a policy institute. Traditional biomass, such as wood fuels or agricultural products used mainly for cooking and heating purposes in rural areas of developing countries constituted 9.1 percent. Modern renewables (solar, wind, geothermal, hydropower, and bioenergy) represented 10.2 percent of global energy consumption in 2015. Solar, wind, biomass, and geothermal energy accounted for 5.8 percent, hydropower accounted for 3.6 percent, and biofuels for transport accounted for 0.8 percent of energy consumption.

More than 9.8 million people around the world were employed in the renewable energy sector in 2016, an increase of 1.1 percent from 2015 according to the International Renewable Energy Agency, an intergovernmental organization and an observer to the United Nations. This figure includes both direct and indirect jobs related to renewable energy, such as power plant operations, equipment manufacturing (solar panels, wind turbines, and other renewable energy technologies), installation, and construction jobs.

About 40 percent of the renewable energy jobs worldwide (3.9 million) were in the solar energy industry, 28 percent (2.8 million) were in bioenergy, and 18 percent (1.7 million) were in hydropower. The wind power industry had 12 percent of the renewable energy jobs (1.2 million) and geothermal energy had 2 percent (182,000). Solar energy includes establishments in concentrated solar power, solar photovoltaics, and solar heating and cooling. Bioenergy includes establishments that derive their energy from solid, liquid, and gaseous biomass for power, heat, and transport; and excludes establishments that use traditional biomass. Hydropower includes establishments that produce electricity in small-scale and large-scale hydropower plants.

By technology, solar photovoltaics had the largest number of jobs with 3 million jobs, followed by biofuels with 1.7 million jobs. Among countries, China continues to be the largest employer with nearly 4 million jobs in 2016, up 3 percent relative to 2015, followed by Brazil (1.1 million), the U.S. (806,000), and India (621,000). In the European Union, Germany continues to be the leading employer with 340,000 jobs in renewables.

In the U.S., renewables provided 15 percent of the energy generated in 2016 according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Hydropower accounted for 6.5 percent of the U.S. electricity generation; wind power provided 5.6 percent; biomass provided 1.5 percent; and solar and geothermal accounted for 0.9 percent and 0.4 percent, respectively.

In Oregon, 68 percent of electricity was generated from renewable resources in 2015, mainly hydroelectric power plants. In 2016, there were about 1,800 jobs in the renewable energy sector in Oregon. This includes establishments that are primarily engaged in operating hydropower, geothermal, biomass, wind, and other electric power generation facilities. It excludes establishments that build renewable energy power facilities, and manufacture and install renewable energy technologies. Nearly three out of four jobs in renewables were in the government, the majority being in the Bonneville Power Administration. Oregon’s hydropower facilities provided 84 percent of the jobs (1,521). Other renewables provided 296 jobs.

The average wage in the sector was $100,468 in 2016. Common jobs in the renewable energy sector include power plant operators; electrical power-line installers and repairers; power distributors and dispatchers; wind turbine service technicians; solar photovoltaic installers; electricians; electrical engineers; environmental engineers; and financial analysts. In Oregon, these occupations have hourly median wages that range from $19.47 for solar photovoltaic installers to $45.33 for power distributors and dispatchers. Electrical power-line installers and repairers ($44.61 per hour); powerhouse, substation, and relay electrical and electronics repairers ($44.07); environmental engineers ($42.82); and electrical engineers ($42.37) are just a few occupations that have median hourly wages higher than the statewide median wage of $18.15 per hour.

Learn more about wages for other common occupations in the renewable energy sector in our “High-Wage, High-Demand, High-Skill Occupations” publication on www.QualityInfo.org/pubs.

Learn more about jobs in the solar industry in our latest article “Careers in Solar Power Manufacturing and Installation.