In many European countries, the sun is the lowest-cost energy source—that’s nothing new. A fact less well known is that the solar sector is creating more jobs than any other generation technology. Numerous jobs are created above all to build solar farms. As the energy transition takes its course, more than a million people will work in this branch of industry. This was revealed in the EU Solar Jobs Report 2021 published by SolarPower Europe. In preparing the study, the authors analysed the development of the labour market in the solar sector in recent years. Based on their findings, they set up a variety of future scenarios. These all prove the same point: Anyone looking to become gainfully employed in the solar PV business looks to a bright future.
According to the organisation, the 27 EU member states counted a total of 357,000 full-time equivalents (FTE) in the solar sector in 2020. This compares to some 81,000 four years prior, with 42 percent of the jobs within the branch of industry itself and the remainder working, e.g., for service providers. The lion’s share of 80 percent was attributable to work in direct relation to solar farm construction. The rest was distributed across operation and maintenance (10 percent), production (6 percent) as well as decommissioning and recycling (4 percent).
Employment was particularly abundant in Poland, Germany, Spain and the Netherlands. What is paradoxical is that although installed capacity in Europe’s No. 1 coal nation pales in comparison to the other countries forming the lead group, Poland attracts a large number of companies from the sector. Reasons for this identified by the authors are cheap labour and a sharp focus on residential PV systems, which are not a straightforward install.
Up to 115 percent growth
The study forecasts a steady upward trend for the sector through to 2025. The main driver is the goal to expand solar energy of the European Solar Initiative (ESI), an association of SolarPower Europe, the European Institute for Innovation and Technology, and further partners. The members aim to build 20 gigawatts (GW) of production capacity for solar-PV technologies in Europe by 2025. Annual required investment has been set at 40 billion euros.
Based on these findings, the study’s authors have created three scenarios. If the ESI targets are hit, the High Scenario forecasts up to 768,000 jobs in the solar sector, a 115 percent jump relative to 2020. During the same period, the Medium Scenario predicts 64 percent growth. In the Business as Usual Scenario, in which production capacity stagnates at the present level, employment figures rise by a mere four percent. However, current calculations by SolarPower Europe already point to a gain of 30 percent for 2021.
The experts are similarly optimistic about the period ending in 2030. In their outlook, they orientate themselves towards the European Commission’s goal of increasing the share of the electricity mix accounted for by renewable energy to 40 percent by then. En route to achieving this objective, the number of full-time positions in solar energy would double to 742,000. In addition, the experts believe that the EU’s loftier emission reduction target calls for a renewables quota of 45 percent. This would require 70 GW of solar capacity to go online every year. In turn, this would really turbo-charge the job engine. According to the report, this would take the sector to a total of 1.1 million jobs. As has been the case so far, most of them would be in construction.