Beating the odds, wind power and other renewable jobs grow throughout 2020

According to the International Renewable Energy Agency’s (IRENA) latest employment review, jobs in the wind industry rose slightly to 1.25 million, up from 1.17 million in 2019. IRENA points to a “strong expansion” of wind power throughout 2020 as the cause, with capacity nearly doubling to 111 GW.

China led the way with 72 GW installed, followed by the U.S. at 14 GW.

According to the report, renewable energy growth, including wind power, totalled 260 GW in 2020.

Solar photovoltaics now accounts for 4 million jobs, biofuels 2.4 million, hydropower 2.2 million, and wind 1.25 million. So, despite the severe lockdown restrictions that hampered other industries throughout 2020, notably fossil fuels, the renewable energy industry came out of lockdowns in better shape than it went in!

“The year 2020 demonstrated that not even a global pandemic can slow the advance of renewable energy,” wrote IRENA Director-General Francesco La Camera. The climate crisis combined with the COVID-19 pandemic “reinforces the need for a just and inclusive transition toward a clean, reliable energy supply and sustainable, healthy, climate-friendly jobs,” he added.

The report highlights China’s dominance in the wind market, as the country boasts just shy of half (44%) of the 1.25 million wind jobs (roughly 550,000). The United States, Germany, and the U.K. are other strong markets, boasting employment numbers of 100,000, 90,000, and 50,000, respectively. The top ten wind-producing countries account for 80% of the world’s total production.

“Wind and solar power are giving us more reasons to be optimistic about our climate goals as they break record after record. Last year, the increase in renewable capacity accounted for 90% of the entire global power sector’s expansion,” said Fatih Birol, the Executive Director of the International Energy Agency (IEA).

“Governments need to build on this promising momentum through policies that encourage greater investment in solar and wind, in the additional grid infrastructure they will require, and in other key renewable technologies such as hydropower, bioenergy and geothermal. A massive expansion of clean electricity is essential to giving the world a chance of achieving its net-zero goals,” Birol added.

One unfortunate downside to this report is the revelation that the wind sector lags behind other renewables in promoting gender employment parity. Whereas women account for roughly one-third of the global renewable energy workforce overall, this number falls to 21% for wind power — putting it on par with oil and gas, an industry that’s known for its imbalanced gender dynamic.

IRENA’s report stresses the need for governments and private businesses to place a greater emphasis on fostering diverse workforces as the clean energy sector continues to scale in size.

IRENA’s report marks excellent news for renewable energy as a whole, especially as the organization’s future growth projections are quite bullish. This perspective is increasingly shared by energy experts and economists alike, especially as the last few years have put green technology’s resiliency, cost-effectiveness, and feasibility on full display.

One thing is for sure — clean energy’s prospects shouldn’t be underestimated!