Renewable energy jobs surge thanks to solar PV

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Rooftop solar continues to be the main driver of employment in the renewable energy sector, accounting for 46% of jobs in in 2017-18, according to data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). Meanwhile, employment in Australia’s large-scale solar PV sector more than doubled (210%), overtaking the hydro sector for the first time.

Last financial year, big PV emerged as the second largest contributor to direct full-time equivalent (FTE) employment on the back of an unprecedented utility-scale solar boom. Despite there being an increase in the efficiency of developing large scale solar PV systems, it experienced the largest increase in FTE employment of any renewable energy type between 2016-17 and 2017-18, increasing from 930 FTE jobs to 2,880 FTE jobs, the ABS statistics shows.

“We saw large scale solar projects – systems with an installed capacity of 100 kW or greater – overtake hydroelectric power to become the second largest creator of renewable jobs, accounting for 16% of jobs,” said ABS Director for the Centre of Environmental and Satellite Accounts, Jonathon Khoo.

Rooftop solar PV remained the largest employer in the renewable energy sector, comprising 8,240 FTE jobs. The ABS notes that while employment in this category has fluctuated over time, it has been the largest single contributor in every year of the published time series. It peaked in 2011-12, when employment in rooftop solar PV made up 74% of total direct FTE employment in renewable energy activities, but its share has declined each year since, the data show.

Hydro electricity (2,020 FTE jobs), wind (1,890) and biomass (1,650) all made a significant contribution to the grand total.

Overall, the number of FTE jobs in the industry rose 28% in 2017-18 from a year earlier to a total of 17,740 jobs. This represents the highest level of FTE employment in renewable energy activities since a peak in 2011-12 and a dramatic increase from its recent low in 2015-16.

States and territories

The largest increase in employment was seen in Queensland (up by 1,550 FTE jobs), followed by Victoria (1,020) and New South Wales (950). Together these three states accounted for 72% of all FTE jobs in the renewable energy sector in Australia in 2017-18.

In Queensland and Victoria this increase was mainly driven by the construction of large scale solar PV facilities, and in NSW mainly by construction of rooftop solar PV, ABS finds.

All states reported an increase in FTE employment related to renewable energy activities between 2016-17 and 2017-18, while both territories reported small declines. Victoria reported the largest percentage increase (47%) in FTE employment, followed closely by Queensland (44%), while NSW saw a 27% growth in FTE employment in renewable energy activities.