Renewable jobs market underplayed

Renewable

Champions of fossil-fuel generation have long complained that jobs losses have been one of the biggest detriments to the decommissioning of coal-fired power plants. And renewable energy sources do nothing to help replace those jobs.

Not so, according to a panel of experts at the recent Australian Energy Storage Conference and Exhibition held at the International Convention in Sydney. At the Q&A after The Benefits of Microgrids for Urban, Rural and Off-Grid Applications seminar, the question of how many jobs are created by renewables was raised by moderator Mark Higgins, COO of clean energy consultancy Strategen.

“In the United States there is a lot of hand wringing over the loss of jobs in the conventional fossil fuel industry,” said Higgins. “In California this issue is finally starting to come to light where statistics are showing that within the renewable energy industry there are more renewable energy jobs than the entire coal industry in the United States.”

This is backed up by a recent report from the U.S. Department of Energy that shows that solar power employed 43 percent of the electricity sector’s workforce in 2016, while fossil fuels combined accounted for 22 percent.

Almost 374,000 people were employed in solar energy, whereas gas, oil and coal power generation combined had a workforce of slightly more than 187,000.

While offering no hard data to back up his point of view, Michael Ottaviano, CEO of Carnegie Clean Energy, said anecdotal evidence suggested that clean energy job opportunities were on the rise.

“If you think about it, since 2010 we’ve retired about 5000 MW of coal-fired power stations,” said Ottaviano. “We haven’t built any coal-fired power stations in about seven years but we’ve built about 10,000MW of renewable [plant]. In terms of job creation, we’ve created no new jobs in the construction of coal-fired power stations in the last seven years, but an enormous amount of jobs to create 10,000MW of renewables. I think the battery storage space is about to take off so we’ll do something similar. Politically the argument doesn’t get much traction in Australia but it should. We’re hearing a lot even in the Finkler report that came out recently about the need for coal-fired power stations to give three years notice partly to allow people to be retrained. That’s a real problem that needs to be addressed.”

ESS vice president of business development, Bill Sproull, said not only did renewables create jobs, but tended to make them localised, which in a country like Australia, is a good thing for regional economies.

“When I think about renewables and microgrids, it’s really decentralising energy generation and control that’s been prevalent in most of our countries. With that, jobs become very much more local, even down to the community level,” he said.

Another panellist, Giin Sia, the Asia Pacific regional sales director for NEC Energy Solutions, sees nothing but positive outcomes in the near future.

“If I could provide feedback from the rest of the Asia Pacific, [renewable] projects are seen as progressive,” he said, “particularly with an existing structure where there is a big dependence on fossil fuel. When talking to some of the utility companies, as well as governments and ministries, I do not get the impression that energy storage or micro grids are going to take away any jobs at all. In fact, it’s going to be able to put in more jobs, specifically in areas that are not seen as traditional skills.”