New data has revealed that Australia continues to buck the global trend of renewable energy jobs growth, with employment in the Australian industry still on the decline after reaching a peak in 2012.
The jobs data, the latest from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, show employment in renewable energy activity fell by 3 per cent from 2013-14 to 2014-15 continuing on a downward trajectory that started after employment in solar energy peaked at 14,350 in 2011-12. The total job fall over that time is 27 per cent.
Clean Energy Council Chief Executive Kane Thornton said the job slump was “hardly surprising”, given the long period of investment uncertainty weathered by the renewable energy industry during the review of the national Renewable Energy Target.
“The ABS figures show a drop of almost 500 jobs in the 2014/15 financial year compared to the one before, and clearly show the importance of policy stability,” Thornton said. “New RET legislation supported by both major parties was passed in June 2015, which is right at the end of the period these new ABS figures are tracking. A lot has changed since then, and confidence is growing across the sector after a challenging few years.
But a lobby group for the solar industry – which accounts for 59 per cent of all renewable energy jobs in Australia – has expressed concern that the uncertainty created during the Abbott era of Coalition government has not yet cleared, despite the change of prime minister.
“Malcolm Turnbull has publicly stated his support for renewables but the ABS figures released today clearly show it’s time he must move from rhetoric to action,” said Solar Citizens’ Claire O’Rourke in a statement on Tuesday.
“The Australian renewable industry is still being held back by uncertainty over government policy and investment.”
O’Rourke pointed to the government’s proposed bill to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, which is still in play – and is a potential trigger for a double dissolution election.
“If the federal government is serious about making job creation and a healthy economy a priority, then it can’t pass on this massive opportunity in solar and renewables,” she said.
“Elsewhere around the world, employment in renewables is booming. According to a recent report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the global renewable energy industry employs 7.7 million people, directly or indirectly. Australia can’t miss out.”
However, O’Rourke noted that despite the decline in renewable jobs in Australia, the clean energy sector still employed more people than the entire coal and gas electricity generation sector.
“The federal government needs to remove all remaining uncertainty and articulate a clear, reasonable and ambitious plan on clean energy that stimulates business investment in renewables and provides a fair go for solar owners,” she said.
The CEC’s Thornton, meanwhile, is confident Australia’s renewables sector is on the up and up.
“Public enthusiasm for renewable energy is high, and the largest solar power plants ever built in Australia have been launched in the last few months at Nyngan, Moree and Broken Hill in New South Wales,” he said on Tuesday.
“Rooftop solar power is now mainstream, the large-scale wind and solar part of the industry is primed for a busy few years and everyone is ready for the arrival of battery storage,” he said.
“We are gearing up for an intense period of delivering large-scale projects such as wind and solar power plants between now and the end of the decade, which will create more jobs and investment in regional areas of the country.
“Obviously we’re still a long way down on the industry peak in 2011-12, but we are looking forward to lots of construction activity under the RET in the coming years.”