The Job Creation Prospects of Renewable and Sustainable Energy Technologies

A precise understanding on wider benefits arising from renewable and sustainable energy is important for decision makers whether European, National, regional or local.  This article explores one such benefit identifying the jobs created by such technologies.  Vincent Carragher, PJ McLoughlin & Paul Kenny, Tipperary Energy Agency.

This review has encountered a mix of approaches creating an unclear picture of the benefits. This study aims to: (1) identify jobs potential (per energy unit generated or saved), (2) include all jobs created, and importantly for Ireland to (3) give relevance to job location and address the import imbalance wind technology places on Irish manufacturing jobs.

One line of thought is to focus on the net job created discounting job losses in the fossil fuel industry. Such analysis is uncertain as it proves difficult to include the following effects:

1. Impacts of the current economic downturn.

2. Advances in mechanisation that decreases employment rates. 

3. Fossil fuel extraction rates vary greatly across Nations.

4. Fossil fuel installations were largely subsidised publicly.

5. Energy research and development budgets for the fossil fuel industry have outweighed those of sustainable energy.

6. Mergers of national and multinational utility companies producing significant lay-offs.

Given our wish to produce robust analysis and limit uncertainty it was decided to assess gross employment figures. A number of definitions are required after which we will discuss this work. A job year means full time employment for one person for 1 year. A direct job is related to the installation, construction, operation and maintenance of plant and relevant works on site. An indirect job is related to the manufacture of the components of the installation (off site). Induced jobs are those created or supported by the spending of the workers with direct and indirect jobs.

A comprehensive desk top review of academic and energy industry sources ranging from non-government organizations to universities, across Europe, North America and Canada has been conducted. Unfortunately few academic peer reviewed sources were found. This review was initially scoped to include 15 technologies appropriate to North Western European countries. These technologies were then reviewed by appropriately located European partners and revised to reflect the comments received. The table below reflects those revised technologies to which coal, nuclear, natural gas and carbon capture alternatives were added in order to provide fossil fuel benchmarks and comparison.

In order to provide a comprehensive assessment it was decided to scope all potential jobs in this review incorporating direct, indirect and induced jobs.  A study by Wei et al provided the main thrust of the approach adopted here Wei et al, 2010. Putting renewables and energy efficiency to work: How many jobs can the clean energy industry generate in the US? Energy Policy, 38, 919–931. In addition data from numerous other studies was evaluated increasing the reliability of the data (expressed in job years/GWh generated).

Other researchers who surveyed the wind industry found that 59% of the direct jobs created were based in manufacture. This fraction was discounted from the jobs created as mentioned above. In general and excepting biomass, the majority of jobs created in these industries are in manufacturing and construction while those in the fossil fuel industry are in fuel processing and in operations and maintenance. On first analysis this appears to disadvantage the former but deployment of such technologies is likely to be staged and given technology lifetimes of 25 to 40 years cyclic development of such installations would prevent front loading of job opportunities.

A short version of the resultant conversions is presented in the Table below, while a complete version can be found here.

This study can support scenario analysis and assist policy makers in answering the employment consequences of renewable and sustainable energy investment. Such investment generates more jobs per unit energy than fossil fuel alternatives. Investment in Solar PV, for example, yields 8 times more jobs per unit energy than investment in gas. This employment increase occurs mainly because:

1. Renewable energy production and sustainable energy technologies are more labour intensive,

2. And they require less imported technology

This clearly points the way for countries with high solar exposure while waste treatment at landfill also offers substantial opportunity. Offshore wind farms and biomass offer strong job creation prospects. In general investing in biomass installations offers 50% more jobs than wind (0.42), solar thermal (0.40) and geothermal (0.40) installations. In preference to replacement of retired fossil fuel plants investment in energy efficiency upgrades would have strong economic impacts as they create 90% more jobs per unit of energy saved/produced.

A larger version of this paper can be located by emailing or

Appendix I

A 228MW (35% capacity factor) wind installation creates 500 C&M jobs over 5 years (2,500 job-years) and 40 O&M jobs over 20 years (800 job-years) (Wei et al (2010, p923). 

Presuming the plant lifetime is 25 years: 

C&M: 2500/(228*25*0.35) = 1.25 jobs per MWa

O&M: 800/(228*25*0.35) = 0.40 jobs per MWa

Appendix II

1. Large scale Wind power (+50kW)

2. Small scale wind power (up to 50kW)

3. Tidal Power4. Wave Power

5. Solar PV 6. Solar thermal

7. Hydroelectricity8. Geothermal Heating

9. Biomass10. Biogas

11. Biofuel12. Domestic Retrofit

13. Deep Retrofit (Passive House standard perhaps) 

15. Electric Vehicles

This article first appeared in Irish Building Magazine and can be viewed with this link.