Employment and renewable energy

The growth of the renewable energy sector has been rapid, but there is concern that the credit crunch could interrupt this trend. In the solar sector, banks are becoming more selective, take longer to finance projects, and are reducing the portion of funding they cover. In the wind power industry, there is not yet any solid evidence of a slowdown. Bank lending is tight, but an increase in the interest rate premiums charged has been offset by a reduction in the general level of interest rates due to the overall economic slowdown.

To date, a small number of countries account for the bulk of renewables installations worldwide. European countries have been in the forefront, and a number of studies suggest substantial job potential. A modeling exercise supported by the EU found that under current policies, there could be a net gain of 950,000 direct and indirect full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs by 2010 and 1.4 million by 2020.

Under an “Advanced Renewable Strategy,” there could be 1.7 million net jobs by 2010 and 2.5 million by 2020. About 60–70 percent of the jobs would be in renewables industries (primarily biofuels and biomass processing and wind power), the remainder in agriculture. Similarly, the European Renewable Energy Council (EREC) argues that by raising the share of renewable energy to 20 percent of the EU’s energy consumption by 2020, the number of green jobs could rise to more than 2 million.

Leading Countries in Renewable Energy Development
Energy Source- Countries

Small Hydropower: China, Japan, United States, Italy, Brazil

Wind Power: Germany, Spain, United States, China, India, Denmark

Biomass Power: United States, Brazil, Philippines, Germany/Sweden/Finland/Hungary

Geothermal Power: United States, Philippines, Mexico, Indonesia/Italy

Solar Photovoltaic Power: Germany, Japan, United States, Spain, Italy (installations); China, Japan, Germany, Taiwan (production)

Concentrating Solar Power or Solar Thermal Electric: United States, Spain

Solar Hot Water: China, Turkey, Japan, Germany, Israel

Developments in international energy markets and prices, as well as the evolution of international climate Policy, will have a major impact. The requirements contained in the EU’s climate package will stimulate technological change and encourage innovation of products and processes within the EU. This is likely to result in a competitive advantage for Member States, increased market share, turnover, and added employment. Additional job projections can be found in the discussion of individual renewable energy sources below.

Germany and Spain are leading forces in Europe. In Germany, the number of renewables jobs jumped from 56,600 in 1998 to almost 250,000 in 2007 and 278,000 in 2008. Roland Berger business consultants project that Germany may have 400,000 to 500,000 people employed in renewables by 2020 and 710,000 by 2030.

In 2007, a trade union study found that Spain’s renewables industry employed 89,000 workers directly and another estimated 99,000 indirectly, for a total of 188,000. Renewables firms are spread evenly throughout different regions of Spain, though with some concentration in already industrialized regions, including Madrid, Catalonia, Valencia, Basque country, and Andalusia.

Wind Power

Global wind power capacity reached 120,800 megawatts (MW) by the end of 2008, 36 percent more than in 2007 and more than 20 times as much as in 1995. In 2007, the European continent accounted for 66 percent of currently installed capacity.

Europe has so far dominated the global wind power sector, both in turbine manufacturing and installations (though the United States and China now saw their installations surge in 2008). European wind turbine manufacturers controlled about 90 percent of worldwide wind turbine sales in 1997; they still have an 80 percent market share today. Danish manufacturers have supplied almost 40 percent of the cumulative generating capacity installed worldwide, with Vestas being the dominant company.

Germany had an estimated 85,000 wind energy jobs in 2008. It has for a number of years had the most wind-related employment in the world—though the United States has now apparently drawn even thanks to record installations in 2008. In 2007, German wind companies exported 70 percent of their production and accounted for one out of three wind turbines installed worldwide.
Denmark’s governmental support has grown unsteady in recent years. Domestic employment, which grew from less than 10,000 jobs in 1996 to about 21,000 in 2002, has since stagnated. Spain employs more than 20,000 people in wind directly and more than 40,000 people including indirect jobs.

Eastern Europe has been slow to embrace wind energy, but this is changing now. Wind power increased 150 percent in 2008 in the Czech Republic. Poland’s wind capacity grew 71 percent in 2008. Bulgaria has a goal of 220 MW wind capacity by 2012, up from 16.5 MW today. Spain’s Iberdrola Renewables is building projects in Poland, Romania, Hungary, and Estonia.

Wind energy development has helped revitalize regions that had suffered from economic decline, such as northwestern Denmark, Schleswig-Holstein in northern Germany, or Navarra in Spain. Denmark has experienced a shift from shipbuilding to wind energy.
Wind development can provide similar benefits in other European countries with areas that suffer from deindustrialization or outsourcing. Policy support—in the form of feed-in tariffs, domestic content provisions, or other measures—is critical.

Direct Wind Energy Industry Employment in Europe, 2007

Germany: 38,000-84,300, incl. indirect jobs in 2007; 85,100 in 2008.

Denmark: 23,500. 8.7% growth over 2006.

Spain: 20,500. 37,730, incl. indirect jobs in 2007; surpassed 40,000 in 2008 and might reach 58,800 by 2012.

France: 7,000. Expects up to 16,000 jobs by 2012.

United Kingdom: 4,000. Possibly as many as 4,800 jobs.

Italy: 2,500. 4,430 in 2008 (15,000 including indirect jobs). Could reach a total of 66,000 jobs by 2020.

Belgium: 2,000



Greece: 1,800

Ireland: 1,500

Finland: 800

Poland: 800

Portugal: 800. 3,000 additional jobs from 2009 on.

Austria: 700

Bulgaria: 100

Czech Republic: 100

Hungary: 100

Rest of EU: 400

EU Total: 108,600

Source : Worldwatch Institute, Vital Signs 2007-2008.

Worldwide, the Global Wind Energy Council puts wind employment at more than 400,000 jobs in 2008 (including jobs in supplier industries).

That’s up from 329,000 people worldwide in 2007. The EU accounted for almost half the 2007 total, or about 154,000. This includes 108,600 direct jobs and 42,700 indirect jobs; an estimated 2,800 additional jobs relate to the higher labor inputs needed at offshore installations.

About 64,000 positions are found in wind turbine and component manufacturing, more than 17,000 in wind farm (site) development, almost 12,000 in installation, operation, and maintenance, about 10,000 at utilities, with the remainder accounted for in R&D, universities, consultants, and financial positions.

Taking into account 2008 job estimates for Germany and Spain, the European total is now likely to have reached at least 160,000. The European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) projects that by 2020, there will be 180 GW of capacity installed, and 300 GW by 2030. Based on these projections, the organization believes that wind employment in the EU will rise to 329,000 and 377,000, respectively.

These projections are based on 15.1 jobs per new MW (manufacturing) and 0.4 jobs per cumulative MW (operations and maintenance), declining gradually (with rising labor productivity) to 11 and 0.29 jobs, respectively, by 2030.

European Employment in the Renewable Energy Sector, 2007/2008

Renewable Energy Source-Selected Countries

Wind Power. Europe : 160,000
Solar PV. Europe : 80,000.
Solar Thermal Energy. Europe : 30,000.
Bioenergy. Europe : > 106,000

Solar Photovoltaics

Electricity generation from solar PV cells is one of a range of promising solar technologies. Global production of PV cells rose to a record 3,733 MW in 2007—a more than 20-fold increase over 1998.  Its output soaring, China captured 29 percent of global production, overtaking Japan and Germany (with 22 and 20 percent, respectively).

Europe as a whole has a 25 percent share. Broken down by companies, the top 9 producers accounted for half of global production.

Annual PV installations reached 2,392 MW in 2007, up from 278 in 2000 and 78 in 1995. Germany continues to dominate the installation market, with almost half the global total. Its current annual installation rate of 1,100 MW could more than double by 2012. Germany was followed by Spain with 341 MW installed in 2007, Japan (210 MW) and the United States (205). Italy added 50 MW and France 12.8 MW.

The worldwide cumulative installed capacity reached 9.2 GW in 2007, up from 1.4 in 2000 and 0.5 in 1994. Europe’s cumulative capacity ran to 4.7 GW in 2007. More than 80 percent—some 3.8 GW—was in Germany. Spain had a cumulative 655 MW installed by end of 2007, with another 1,000 MW to be installed in 2008.

Italy had a comparatively small 100 MW in 2007 (but expected to doubled by the end of 2008) and France had about 36 MW. Europe’s share of cumulative capacity, currently at slightly more than half the world’s total, is projected to decline to 40 percent by 2020 and 20 percent by 2030, as other regions of the world increase their installations.

In terms of annual installments, Europe’s share is expected to fall from 72 percent in 2007 to 29 percent in 2020 and 10 percent in 2030.

Solar Generation V, a joint study by European Photovoltaics Industry Association (EPIA) and Greenpeace International, put current global PV employment at 208,000.

Findings from Germany suggest that this 2007 figure may already understate employment, given continued rapid expansion. According to the German environment ministry, German PV-related jobs surged from 38,600 in 2007 to 57,000 in 2008.

The Solar Generation V report also projects that as many as 10 million jobs will be created in the solar PV sector worldwide by 2030. A total of 50–53 jobs might be created per MW of installed capacity, though over time rising labor productivities will reduce these numbers.

PV manufacturing is thought to add 10 jobs per MW, installation 33 jobs, wholesaling of systems 3–4 jobs, indirect supply 3–4 jobs, and research : 1–2 jobs.48 Most jobs will thus be created at the point of installation (installers, retailers and service engineers), giving a boost to local economies.

Even though Europe’s share of global production and installations is widely expected to decline, the continent’s PV employment will nonetheless continue to grow. Under assumptions summarized, jobs may expand to 727,000 in 2020 and 1.4 million in 2030.

Concentrating Solar Power

Concentrating solar power (CSP) and solar thermal energy (for heating and cooling purposes) are other promising technologies. A number of CSP plants are under construction or in the planning stage—typically in desert areas or other very hot locations—in Algeria, China, Egypt, Israel, Mexico, Morocco, South Africa, Spain, and the United States. Companies and their suppliers are preparing for a boom in this industry. Greece is completing construction of its first plant in 2009.

Eight of the 13 biggest planned CSP plants will be located in the United States. The construction jobs and employment related to larger plant components (which will likely be sourced in proximity to the plant locations to avoid high transport costs) will be generated in the United States.

But various inputs into the supply chain can generate employment in locations other than where the CSP plants are being built. Among the European companies that are producing collectors, mirrors/reflectors, and other components for this emerging industry are Abengoa, Acciona Energia, Albiasa, Cristaleria Espanola SA, Samca, Grupo Enhol, and Sener Group (all of Spain); Alanod, Solar Millennium AG, Solar Power Group, Flabeg, Epuron, and Novatec BioSol AG (all of Germany); Glaverbel of Belgium; and Pilkington of the United Kingdom.

In the solar thermal field, China is the undisputed global leader in terms of market size. However, European companies are the technological leaders.

The EU market doubled in less than three years. Total solar thermal capacity in operation in the EU and Switzerland reached 15.4 gigawatts-thermal (GWth) at the end of 2007.

Germany had 35 percent of the European solar thermal market in 2007, followed by Greece, Austria, Spain, France, and Italy with about 10 percent each. Though only holding a 2 percent market share, Poland has a growing domestic industry and is expected to become a more important player.

Germany’s solar thermal employment grew from an estimated 12,100 jobs in 2007 to 17,400 in 2008. Spain is in second place in Europe, with currently about 9,000 jobs. In 2006, the Italian solar thermal industry provided almost 2,000 full time (direct and indirect) jobs, and 3,000 jobs were forecast for 2007 (assuming one full-time job per 70 kilowatts-thermal (100 square meters) installed).

Using this rough jobs formula, European installations may have provided employment to more than 27,000 people in 2007. Nearly half the industry’s employment is generally found in retail, installation, and maintenance.

In 2007, EREC estimated employment in the European solar thermal sector at more than 20,000 full-time jobs. Yet this figure appears highly conservative in light of the above calculation and the combined national estimates for Germany, Spain, and Italy, which alone would indicate employment of about 30,000.

Given the industry’s dynamic expansion, in a few decades it may employ more than half a million people. Although the manufacturing jobs will be exposed to global competition, retail, installation, and maintenance jobs are local, typically in small and medium sized enterprises.


Biomass can be used for a variety of purposes—biofuels for transport, biogas, and generation of heat and power. Biofuels projects create employment in the agricultural sector and in processing industries, but also in research, engineering, distribution, and installation.

The numbers of existing jobs easily amount to 1 million worldwide (principally in Brazil, and the United States, but also in the EU) and could possibly climb to at least 10 times that much in the future.

Various factors such as fluctuating commodity prices, debates about environmental and social benefits versus costs, including conflict with food security, as well as changing policies have somewhat cooled the earlier enthusiasm. It is clear that future growth needs to ensure the sustainability of biofuels projects, with significant GHG emission reductions and overall positive environmental and social impacts.

Still, global production is continuing to grow. In 2008, bio-ethanol output reached 64 million tons. EU countries account for only about 4 percent of world ethanol output, but feature more prominently in biodiesel. Their production grew from slightly more than 1 million tons in 2002 to 16 million tons in 2008. Germany (33 percent of European output), France (13), Italy (10), and Spain (8) are the largest producers.

Meanwhile, the number of biogas production systems is also growing. According to the European Biomass Industry Association, “in addition to Germany with about 4,000 and Austria with over 300 systems, the boom is also beginning in the East European countries. For example, totally 40 new systems were built in the Czech Republic last year alone. This makes biogas a labor market of the future in which many local and regional jobs will be created.”

Germany has an estimated 95,800 direct and indirect jobs in biofuels and other forms of biomass development. Spain has slightly more than direct 10,000 jobs (4,948 in biomass for heat generation; 2,419 in biofuels; and 2,982 in biogas).

France hopes its proposed biofuel programme may generate 25,000 additional jobs by 2010. Eastern European countries, with still substantial agriculture sectors, can particularly benefit from biofuels and biomass development because it contributes to rural income generation.

Some studies have attempted to come up with a formula of jobs created per unit of output. One report claims that 4,900 jobs are created for each GW of biomass power. Another study says that 4,500 jobs could be created per 1 million liters of ethanol produced.
A 2007 study by GHK, Institute for European Environmental Poliy (IEEP), and Cambridge Econometrics projected that replacing 10 percent share of fuel consumption with biofuels could yield a net gain of 108,100 direct jobs and 31,400 indirect jobs in the agriculture sector.

Other studies predict higher job gains. A 2006 study posited that some 580,000 jobs could be generated over the next decade in installing and operating biomass heating systems, including production, processing, and distribution of the raw material. A report by EREC estimated that meeting the EU 2010 renewables target will result in a net gain of 424,000 jobs in the biofuels sector.

Finally, a 2007 report by the Öko-Institut and the Institut für Energetik in Germany indicates that the European sustainable production for biomethane may be 500 billion cubic meters per year. This could generate 2.7 million new jobs in the EU, mainly in agriculture and manufacturing, construction and management of biogas plants and biogas purification plants.

The studies and estimates surveyed above suggest that a sizable renewable energy industry has emerged in Europe. Employment in this sector is still concentrated in a fairly small number of countries—Germany and Spain in particular. But it is also become clear that others are increasingly following in the footsteps of the pioneering countries, and it is thus very likely that they will see growing numbers of jobs in wind, solar, and bioenergy industries.


1. Kate Galbraith, “In Europe, Wind and Solar Feel Financial Crisis,” Green Inc., 12 February 2009,
http ://greeninc.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/02/12/in-europe-wind-and-solar-feel-financial-crisis/

2. Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21), Renewables Global Status Report 2006 Update (Paris : REN21 Secretariat and Washington, DC : Worldwatch Institute, 2007), and from REN21, Renewable 2007 Global Status Report (Paris : REN21 Secretariat and Washington, DC : Worldwatch Institute, 2008); European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA) and Greenpeace International, Solar Generation V – 2008 (Brussels and Amsterdam, 2008).

3. Armin Mayer, “Green Jobs Revolution : Just a Pipedream?,” 15 May 2008, www.climatechangecorp.com/content.asp?ContentID=5328.

4. European Commission, “Meeting the Targets & Putting Renewables to Work. Overview Report,” MITRE—Monitoring & Modelling Initiative on the Targets for Renewable Energy, at
www.ewea.org/fileadmin/ewea_documents/documents/policy/external_documents/040330_MITRE_overview_-_Meeting_the_targets_and_putting_renewables_to_work.pdf; MITRE project site, http ://mitre.energyprojects.net.

5. “US and China in Race to the Top of Global Wind Industry,” Global Wind Energy Council, 2 February 2009; Janet L. Sawin, “Wind Power Continues Rapid Rise,” Vital Signs Online (Worldwatch Institute), released April 2008, at www.worldwatch.org/node/5448.

6. Capacity additions from REN21, op. cit. note 21; job figures from Danish Wind Industry Association, “Employment,” www.windpower.org/composite-1456.htm.

7. Janet L. Sawin, “Solar Power Shining Bright,” in Worldwatch Institute, Vital Signs 2007–2008 (New York : W.W. Norton & Company, 2007), p. 38; Janet L. Sawin, “Another Sunny Year for Solar Power,” Vital Signs Online (Worldwatch Institute), 2008, at

8. Leading European countries from ESTIF, “Update : Study on Italian Solar Thermal Market Now Available for Download” (Brussels : 19 June 2007), at www.estif.org/index.php?id=46&backPID=2&pS=1&tt_news=115.

9. “Solar Thermal Takes Off in Italy. 1st Statistical Survey & Market Study Year 2006” (Feltre, Italy : Solarexpo Research Centre, June 2007), at www.estif.org/fileadmin/downloads/2006_Italian_Market_Study.pdf.

10. United Nations Environment Programmeme (UNEP), Green Jobs : Towards Decent Work in a Sustainable, Low-Carbon Economy (Nairobi, September 2008). http://www.unep.org/PDF/UNEPGreenJobs_report08.pdf

11. European Biodiesel Board, “2008 Production Capacity Statistics,” www.ebb-eu.org/stats.php, accessed 12 March 2009.

12.“The European Biogas Industry Joins Forces,” European Biomass Industry Association, 18 February 2009, at
http ://www.eubia.org/296.0.html?&tx_ttnews[tt_news]=308&tx_ttnews[backPid]=299&cHash=36c48432b9.

13. Thomas Dworak, EU Bioenergy Policies and their Effects on Rural Areas and Agriculture Policies, Report for European Commission, DG Research, November 2008,  at
http ://agrinergy.ecologic.eu/download/Survey_Impacts_Biomass_production_EU.pdf.

14. WWF, Low Carbon Jobs for Europe: Current opportunities and future prospects, http://assets.panda.org/downloads/low_carbon_jobs_final.pdf