The Need for Renewable Energy is Back in the Headlines
The bushfire crisis has caught the attention of the world. Millions of dollars of support have come from all over the globe and Australians are being forced to look at the issues the tragedy has raised. Climate change is undoubtedly a contributing factor, and the reasons for that change is now being looked at like never before. Australia’s GDP is continuing to dependent upon fossil fuels, and we are world leaders in coal, and iron ore mining. However, Australia is also becoming more aware and more innovative where it comes to renewable energy and the jobs it can create.
Growth in Renewable Energy
Renewable energy in Australia includes wind power, hydroelectricity, solar PV, heat pumps, geothermal, wave and solar thermal energy. Last year, Australia met its 2020 renewable energy target of 23.5% and 33 terawatt-hours. Australia produced 378.7 PJ of overall renewable energy (including renewable electricity) in 2018, which accounted for 6.2% of Australia’s total energy use. Renewable energy grew by an annual average of 3.2% in the ten years between 2007-2017 and by 5.2% between 2016-2017. This contrasts to growth in coal (-1.9%), oil (1.7%) and gas (2.9%) over the same 10-year period. It is estimated that Australia produced 48,279 gigawatt-hours (GWh) of renewable electricity in 2018, which accounted for 21.3% of the total amount of electricity generated in Australia.
With this growth comes the need for talented people to continue that development. The number of Australians employed in full-time jobs by the renewable energy industry has been estimated at 14,820 in 2016-17, a 33 per cent jump in FTE (full-time equivalent) employment from the 2015/16 period, and the highest numbers seen since the boom-time of 2012-13.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, which released the updated data on just last year, the jump in renewables jobs for 2016/17 was mostly driven by the development pipeline of solar and wind farms, although rooftop solar remains the biggest single employer, in terms of full-time jobs.
“Roof-top solar PV remains the largest renewable energy sector in terms of FTE employment,” the ABS says. “While employment in this category has fluctuated, it has remained the largest single contributor since 2009-10. Its share peaked in 2011-12 when employment in roof-top solar PV made up 74 per cent of total direct FTE employment in renewable energy activities and has declined since then.”
On a state-by-state basis, there has been an increase in FTE employment in renewables across the board in 2016-17, led by growth in two of Australia’s most coal power dominated states, New South Wales and Queensland.
Those two states, says the ABS, delivered the largest increases in total FTE employment in renewables, both increasing numbers by more than 1,000 FTE jobs, of the back of mostly large-scale solar in Queensland, and wind farms in NSW.
Renewable Energy Jobs – A Sustainable Future?
A rapid shift to renewable energy wouldn’t just clean up electricity generation; it would create an employment boom with as many as 60,000 new jobs. And the total would at least match the numbers employed in coal-fired electricity generation.
From 7,300 to 12,500 jobs a year would be needed for operation and maintenance of electricity generation without fossil fuels, according to research by The Australia Institute.
And when manufacturing of equipment is included, the employment pool could be boosted by 18,000 to 59,000 jobs, the research found. “In the decade to 2030, there are far more jobs in building new renewable generation than there currently are in operating our ageing fossil fuel generators,” the institute’s research director Rod Campbell said.
“In the longer term, the operation of utility-scale renewables is likely to have similar levels of employment to fossil fuel generators.” The research has, for the first time, attempted to quantify renewable power advocates’ boast that moving from fossil fuels would revitalise employment prospects, particularly in regional areas.
Whether the recent fires and their potential causal factors will be deliberate don for some time, there can be little doubt that Australia is in a prime position to be a world leader in renewable energy jobs, and gradually steer away from fossil fuels in the process.