Renewable Energy in China Boosts Employment
Many consider China to be a leader in renewable energy, with the country now boasting the biggest market for jobs in this sector. According to Energy Monitor, China will build more than 870 GW of solar and wind power infrastructure by 2025. For context, the U.K.’s entire solar energy installations by June 2021 stood at around 13 GW. In 2021, the renewable energy sector employed almost 5.4 million people in China, equating to 0.7% of the entire labor force. The recent global energy crisis has only served to accelerate this job boom. Last year, concerns over the price of fossil fuels pushed China to more than quadruple its onshore wind capacity and 2022 saw the biggest-ever contribution of the clean energy sector to China’s workforce.
A Clean Way to Tackle Poverty
Based on the poverty headcount of $6.85 a day, 25% of China’s population lived in poverty in 2019 and economic inequality is still rife. Therefore, poverty reduction through job creation is still very much a priority for the national government. Deciding to invest heavily in clean energy, China is ensuring it provides future-proof jobs that have little chance of becoming redundant, considering the world’s net-zero ambitions.
Plus, having prioritized renewable energy in China, other countries now rely on support from China to help meet their energy ambitions. China, for instance, has a near-monopoly on the production of wafers and ingots, commanding 96% of global solar production in 2021, according to an International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) report.
In its report, IRENA has also explained where these renewable energy jobs come from, highlighting that China needs both high and low-skilled workers in its green energy push. A total of 1.6 million Chinese people are employed for their manufacturing efforts, “1 million for construction and installation” and “0.8 million for operation and maintenance,” the report says.
3 Takeaways for the Global Fight Against Poverty
China has led the way in terms of renewable energy in three main ways:
- Early investment. By 2014, China had already pumped $100 billion into the renewable energy sector, surpassing the investments made by both the EU and the U.S. However, most other poverty-stricken countries do not have this sort of funding readily available. So, foreign aid donors, like the U.S. and the U.K., could consider using more of their budgets to support such initiatives. The potential payback on that investment would consist not only of poverty relief but also of more comprehensive, global climate action.
- Targeted policies. China did not only rely on investment to give renewable energy a boost — targeted regulation also played an important role. The 2005 Renewable Energy Law, for instance, forced power companies to compensate renewable energy providers if they did not “buy the total amount” of the clean energy provided. This guaranteed clean energy suppliers’ economic stability from the get-go.
- Economies of scale. “As the scale of Chinese manufacturing has grown, the costs of renewable-energy devices have plummeted,” says a 2014 Nature article. In short, China has been able to take advantage of a virtuous circle: the more renewable energy it manufactures, the cheaper the selling price, thereby generating more demand and jobs.
Finally, something that should prove encouraging is how China leveraged its “low labor, electricity and land costs” to grow its clean energy sector, IRENA reports. These low-cost advantages also exist in almost all other developing countries.
Hope for the Future
China has shown that it is possible to harness green energy for future-proof jobs and others can follow suit. India is on track to employ 1 million people in the same way, by 2030, according to the IRENA report. Other regions, like Africa, which employs less than 3% of the renewable energy labor market, could do the same.
Overall, the renewable energy job boom in China proves that foreign aid budgets could make their money go further. More investment in overseas clean energy may not only help tackle the climate crisis but also provide some of the world’s most vulnerable with invaluable employment for many years to come.
– Sam Rucker