By David Dodge & Dylan Thompson
By any metric, the renewable energy sector is a growth industry. By the end of 2014 there were 7.7 million jobs in the renewable energy industry worldwide, up 18 per cent over the year before, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency. And that doesn’t include large hydro.
Solar electricity, the largest renewable energy employer, accounted for 2.5 million of those jobs. The top five countries for renewable energy jobs were China, Brazil, the United States, India and Germany.
For its part the U.S is doing very well, thank you: solar jobs topped 174,000 in 2014, eclipsing coal jobs by a significant margin.
Despite so many big-picture statistics, it’s not as easy to get hi-res on clean energy jobs in Canada or the provinces. This is what motivated the Pembina Institute to zoom in on green energy jobs and create the Clean Energy Jobs Map of B.C. in April.
Their study found 14,100 jobs in the renewable energy sector in British Columbia. Penelope Comette, director of clean energy economy for the Pembina Institute, says they created the Clean Energy Jobs Map to visualize what and where these jobs are. (In the interest of transparency, Green Energy Futures is a project of the Pembina Institute).
The map shows 5,800 jobs with conventional large hydro and the remaining 8,300 jobs split between run-of-river, biogas, biomass, wind and solar. About 7,700 of those jobs are direct jobs.
Solar, the job engine
If you’re looking for the biggest bang for your buck, biomass creates the most jobs, both in construction and in ongoing operations compared to the other technologies, says Comette. That’s in present day B.C.; but globally, in more mature clean energy markets, top jobs are in solar at 37.3 jobs per megawattt, closely followed by biogas at 31 jobs per megawatt.
Or, put another way, “every 150 megawatts (MW) of solar energy capacity represents $310 million in investment, 1,875 direct full-time-equivalent construction jobs and 45 permanent direct jobs in operations,” according to the Canadian Solar Industry Association.
According to Comette, policies like B.C.’s carbon tax and clean energy requirement have helped make the business case for clean energy investments in the province.
Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson is counting on green jobs to play an increased role in the economy. “In our Greenest City plan we have a goal to double the number of green jobs in the city. We’ve seen that increase 19 per cent in the last three years.”
All these numbers are great. However, it’s nice to put a face on this new green economy, so we spoke to Robert Baxter in Vancouver.
Green energy jobs on the ground
Back in 2004, Baxter was frustrated and tired of his job in information technology. What he really wanted was to make a positive contribution to the future. So he decided to start a solar company in Vancouver.
Getting started was hard, so Baxter kept working as an IT consultant while developing his hobby solar business. He planted the seed for the Vancouver Energy Coop and business is growing, about 40 per cent per year in recent years and 70 per cent in the last year alone. In 2015, this small company employs three full-time staff and up to seven more on a part-time or contract basis.
For Robert Baxter, the journey to green jobs began with a few solar courses at BCIT, after completing his liberal arts and business university degrees. His job in the beginning involved bolting solar modules on buildings. Now he designs systems and his renewable energy coop is hiring. That is the story of renewable energy, many jobs spread out over a wide geography.
Surprisingly, B.C. has very little support for renewable energy itself.
“If we were to see something like a feed-in tariff program here in BC, I think things would go absolutely crazy,” says Baxter. “There’s so much pent-up demand. Right now, the economics are still fairly long term. If we can make the economics more short term, we’d definitely see a huge increase in business.”
Entrepreneurs and the green jobs connection
Green energy startups seem to attract entrepreneurs on a mission, creating some dynamic companies in the green energy and clean tech space. Think of Elon Musk and Tesla and the Powerwall batteries, or closer to home think about entrepreneurs such as Kent Rathwell who started Sun Country Highway and built the world’s longest chain of electric vehicle charging stations right here in Canada.
Or how about Dan Balaban, a former oilfield software entrepreneur who started Greengate Power and built one-third of Alberta’s wind power in just a few years. There’s also Reza Nasseri, CEO of Landmark Homes, a mainstream home builder who is determined to fight climate change by adding a solar division and building all of their homes (800 to 1,000 every year) net-zero ready by 2016.
Then we have coops, such as the Cowichan Biodiesel Cooperative which is using cooking oil from cruise liners to power tour buses with 100 per cent biodiesel fuel, or Mike Brigham and Solarshare who are bringing investment to solar. Finally, consider Tom Rand and the MaRS Cleantech Fund, busy investing in clean energy startups of every shape and size.
This is the green energy revolution taking off in Canada and around the world. It is only a matter of time before we’re able to get a much higher-resolution look at the job impacts in Canada.