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U.S. Solar Jobs Exceed Oil and Gas for First Time in 2015

According to a report released last week by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the number of U.S. solar jobs surpassed those in oil and natural gas extraction for the first time last year.  Overall, renewable energy jobs grew 6 percent while employment in oil and gas declined 18 percent. This trend in clean energy growth was also evident globally as renewable energy jobs increased 5 percent from last year to 8.1 million; meanwhile, oil and gas producers have cut 351,410 jobs worldwide as oil prices have declined 58 percent since June 2014.  Read on to learn more about renewable energy trends in the U.S. along with the leading renewable energy countries and market segments.

Growth continued in the renewable energy sector even as jobs in the broader energy sector fell.  Fed by state initiatives to spur clean energy and innovative financing measures offered by companies, solar employment grew 22 percent, 12 times faster than job creation in the U.S. economy, as developers add workers at record rates to install rooftop panels.   Employment in the wind industry also grew 21 percent nationally.

Globally, the top countries providing jobs in renewable energy were China, Brazil, the U.S., India, Japan and Germany.  Asia accounts for 60 percent of the world’s clean energy employees led by China with 3.5 million clean energy jobs; Brazil and the U.S. are second and third in total renewable energy jobs, employing 918,000 and 769,000 in the renewable energy market, respectively.  Decreasing renewable energy technology costs and enabling policy frameworks continue to be key drivers of employment, including national and state auctions in India and Brazil, tax credits in the United States, and favorable policies in Asia.

In terms of market segments, solar PV remained the largest renewable energy employer with 2.8 million jobs, an 11 percent increase from 2014.  Liquid biofuels was the second largest global employer with 1.7 million jobs, but experienced a decrease from 2014 due to a variety of factors.  The third largest employer, wind energy, grew 5 percent to 1.1 million jobs, driven by strong installation rates in China, the U.S. and Germany.

Growth in the renewable energy sector is expected to continue as countries attempt to meet climate targets agreed to during the Paris climate change conference last year.  A doubling of the renewable energy share by 2030, enough to meet these targets, would result in more than 24 million jobs worldwide.

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Thomas R. Burton, III

Member / Chair, Energy & Sustainability Practice

Tom Burton has helped to shape the clean energy industry by drawing on his passion for innovation. As a Mintz attorney, Tom counsels investors, entrepreneurs, and Fortune 100 companies. He also guides start-up organizations and accelerators to foster the next generation of energy leaders.