Renewable Energies; Employment Transitions Expected to Rise on the Path to Reduce Emissions

Much of the discussion around the renewable energy transition taking place has focused on its physical implications. New generating capacity, significant investment, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions have been widely explored. What’s yet to go under the microscope in any great detail is the inevitable shifts in employment associated with the energy sector.

As with most economic and technology shifts, jobs will undergo a cycle of redundancy and creation. Some jobs will be easy to replace, while others will require re-training, upskilling or relocation. With Australia’s electricity market poised for a seismic move from fossil fuels to renewable electricity, decarbonising the sector is not without its challenges.

Clean Energy Council Findings.

The Clean Energy Council commissioned the Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology to undertake a survey of employment in renewable energy. The catalyst for the large-scale survey (the first of its kind), was to further understand the reported skills shortage and workforce planning challenges.

Using employment factors derived from these surveys, estimates of renewable energy jobs from 2020 to 2035 have been produced using three energy market scenarios:

  • (1) Central Scenario: growth is determined by market forces under current federal and state government policies (i.e. business-as-usual with no additional policy).
  • (2) Step Change: strong policy commitments occur with ‘aggressive de- carbonisation’ and growth in renewable energy.
  • (3) High Distributed Energy Resource (DER): higher growth in rooftop solar and battery storage relative to large-scale renewable energy.

The Seven Key Findings From the Study:

  • (1) Renewable energy will be a major source of jobs in the medium-term:
    - Scenarios 1 and 2; renewable energy jobs peak around 45,000 and there is an average of 34,000 jobs annually to 2035.
    - Scenario 3; a slowdown in renewable energy investment leads to the loss of around 11,000 jobs by 2022 before steady employment growth resumes.
  • (2) Renewable energy creates employment across a diverse range of occupations, led by trades and technicians, labourers and professionals.
  • (3) Under all 3 scenarios, job growth is strongest in rooftop solar and wind. Most jobs are in construction and installation. Over time an increasing proportion of jobs would be on-going operations and maintenance roles.
  • (4) Renewable energy currently employs more people than in the domestic coal sector — this will continue to do so under all scenarios. In the growth scenarios, renewable energy employment is comparable to current employment across all coal mining.
  • (5) Renewable energy will create employment across regional Australia, including coal regions. The occupational mix and location of renewable energy jobs points to a significant role of the sector in creating alternative employment.
  • (6) Renewable energy experienced significant skill shortages and recruitment difficulties in 2018-19, reducing local employment and increasing costs.
  • (7) There are significant opportunities for better coordination, planning and investment to improve employment outcomes through Renewable Energy Zones.

Pull-out Quote:

“It’s clear that these renewable energy jobs can have an enormous positive impact on regional communities and should be a clear priority for government as part of the COVID-19 economic response,”

— Clean Energy Council Chief Executive, Kane Thornton.

What This Means For Your Workforce.

Future job roles will see an overlap between a range of professionals, trades and labourers within renewable energy and the coal sector. These include roles such as construction and project managers, engineers, electricians, mechanical trades, office managers and contract administrators, and drivers. The timing and location of these jobs will be a major factor in how easily they can be a realistic replacement for coal mining jobs.

Companies will likely need to invest in re-training to bridge the transition between sectors. For example, while drillers may be needed for pumped hydro construction, there is no match for much of the core mining workforce of semi-skilled machine operators. The combination of opportunity for jobs creation in renewable energy, and use of renewable energy in other industries, shows promising signs renewable energy can play a significant role in creating alternative employment to replace coal-based positions.

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