Canada in top 10 for Hydropower, but doesn’t rate for other renewables

By Carl Meyer, Canada’s National Observer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Canada has made the top 10 list of countries for the number of jobs in hydropower, but didn’t rank in three other key renewable energy technologies, according to new international figures.

Although Canada has only two per cent of the global workforce, it had one of the 10 largest slices of the world’s jobs in hydropower in 2019, says the Abu Dhabi-based International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

Canada didn’t make IRENA’s other top-10 employment lists, for solar photovoltaic (PV) technology, liquid biofuels or wind power, released Sept. 30. Figures from the agency show the whole sector represents 61,130 jobs across Canada, or 0.5 per cent of the world’s 11.5 million jobs in renewables.

The numbers show Canada needs to move faster to minimize the climate crisis, including by joining trade blocs that put tariffs on high-carbon goods, argued the Victoria-based BC Sustainable Energy Association after reviewing IRENA’s report. The Canadian Renewable Energy Association also said it showed the country has untapped job creation potential.

But other clean tech advocates say there’s more to the story. When tallying clean energy jobs, it’s worth a broader look, Clean Energy Canada argued, pointing to the recent Ford-Unifor deal that includes a $1.8-billion commitment to produce electric vehicles in Oakville, Ont.

We punch above our weight

Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan’s office also pointed out the renewables employment figures from IRENA are proportional to global population. “While Canada’s share of the global clean energy job market is in line with our population size, we produce almost 2.7 per cent of the world’s total primary renewable energy supply. As only 0.5 per cent of the global population, we punch above our weight,” said O’Regan’s press secretary, Ian Cameron.

Canada joined IRENA in January 2019 and the country has been described by the association as an “important market” for renewables over the long term.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a new $10-billion “Growth Plan” to be run by the Canada Infrastructure Bank that would include “$2.5 billion for clean power to support renewable generation and storage and to transmit clean electricity between provinces, territories, and regions, including to northern and Indigenous communities.” The infrastructure bank’s plan is expected to create 60,000 jobs, the government said.

World ‘building the renewable energy revolution now’

A powerful renewables sector is not just about job creation. It is also imperative if we are to meet global climate objectives, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Renewable energy sources have to make up at least a 63 per cent share of the global electricity market by mid-century to battle the more extreme effects of climate change, it said.

“The IRENA report shows that people all over of the world are building the renewable energy revolution now,” said Tom Hackney, policy adviser for the BC Sustainable Energy Association.

“Many people in Canada are doing so, too. But we need to move faster to minimize climate change. For example, at the level of trade policy, a great idea would be to develop low-carbon trading blocs that put tariffs on goods with high embodied carbon emissions.”

Canadian Renewable Energy Association president and CEO Robert Hornung said the IRENA jobs review highlights “significant job creation potential” in Canada. As governments explore how to stimulate economic recovery from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, said Hornung, it’s important to “capitalize on Canada’s untapped renewable energy resources.”

In Canada, 82 per cent of the electricity grid is already non-emitting, noted Sarah Petrevan, policy director for Clean Energy Canada.

With the federal government committing to a 90 per cent non-emitting grid by 2030, said Petrevan, more wind and solar deployment can be expected, especially in the Prairies where renewables are needed to help with Canada’s coal-fired power plant phase out.

One example of renewables in the Prairies is the Travers Solar project, which is expected to be constructed in Alberta through 2021, and is being touted as “Canada’s largest solar farm.”

But renewables are only “one part of the broader clean energy sector,” said Petrevan. Clean Energy Canada has calculated clean tech supports around 300,000 jobs, and those are projected to grow to half a million by 2030.

“We’re talking about a transition of our energy system in every sense — not just in the power we produce. So while the IRENA figures provide global context, they reflect only a portion of both our current reality and the opportunity for Canada,” she said.

The organization’s research has shown that manufacturing of electric vehicles would be one of the fastest-growing job creators over the next decade. Putting a punctuation mark on that is a recent $1.8-billion deal with Ford Motor Company of Canada to produce five models of electric vehicles in Oakville, Ont.

China ‘remains the clear leader’ in renewables jobs

With 4.3 million renewable energy jobs in 2019, or 38 per cent of all renewables jobs, China “remains the clear leader in renewable energy employment worldwide,” the IRENA report states. China has the world’s largest population and the second-largest GDP.

The country is also by far the world’s largest emitter of carbon pollution, at 28 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and has significant fossil fuel interests. Chinese President Xi Jinping called for a “green revolution” last month, and pledged to “achieve carbon neutrality before 2060.”

China holds the largest proportion of jobs in hydropower, with 29 per cent of all jobs, followed by India at 19 per cent, Brazil at 11 per cent and Pakistan at five per cent, said IRENA.

Canada, with 32,359 jobs in the industry, and Turkey and Colombia hold two per cent each of the world’s hydropower jobs, while Myanmar and Russia hold three per cent each and Vietnam has four per cent.

China also dominates the global solar PV workforce, with 59 per cent of all jobs, followed by Japan, the United States, India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brazil, Germany and the Philippines. There are 4,261 jobs in solar PV in Canada, IRENA calculated, out of a global workforce of 3.8 million jobs.

In wind power, China again leads, with 44 per cent of all jobs. Germany, the United States and India come after, with the United Kingdom, Denmark, Mexico, Spain, the Philippines and Brazil following suit. Canada has 6,527 jobs in wind power out of 1.17 million worldwide.

As for liquid biofuels, Brazil leads that industry, with 34 per cent of all jobs. Indonesia, the United States, Colombia, Thailand, Malaysia, China, Poland, Romania and the Philippines fill out the top 10. There are 17,691 jobs in Canada in liquid biofuels.

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