Jobs in Australia's renewables sector plunge to record low

Globally renewables jobs are growing at five per cent each year. In Australia, they’re shrinking at 16 per cent.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at the Tumut 3 power station

The iconic Snowy Hydro scheme will get a $2bn expansion in what has been called a game changer. (AAP) Source: AAP

The torrent of Australian workers moving away from renewable energy has accelerated, driven mainly by a continued contraction in the roof-top solar sector.

More than 2000 jobs in renewables were lost in 2015-16, according to ABS estimates, including a halving of the national wind-power workforce to 620.

11,150 full-time equivalent workers were in renewables in 2015-16, down from a high of 19,220 in 2011-12. Since then the sector has declined each year.

Olivia Kember, Head of Policy at The Climate Institute said the federal government's decision to slash the Renewable Energy Target in 2015 had damaged the industry.

"A 16 per cent decline since last year, following after several years of falling jobs numbers, is a direct result of the government's failure to set a national strategy for clean, modern energy," she said.

"That costs us in terms of higher prices, less reliable and more polluting power, but we should also recognise it costs us in terms of the thousands of new jobs that we could have but don't."

Minister for the Environment and Energy, Josh Frydenberg, said these figures were taken before the Australian Renewable Energy Agency announced a round of funding that is predicted to create 2300 jobs directly and indirectly.

“Jobs in renewables have a bright future because it was the Coalition which restored certainty of investment by securing bi-partisan support a 23.5 per cent renewable energy target by 2020," he said, "something which even (Labor climate spokesman) Mark Butler agreed with stating in the Parliament that it would “restore investor confidence."


Mr Butler said the government's approach to renewables was "nothing short of a disgrace".

"The Turnbull government has engaged in a sustained campaign of attacking renewables, as well as refusing to support any renewable investment post 2020, in contrast to their taxpayer funded new coal con," he said.

"Australia has the best renewable resources in the world and some of the world’s best renewable technology, but rather than seeing this industry as the huge opportunity it is, the Liberal party see it as a threat that needs to be destroyed."

A report from The Australia Institute last year predicted jobs in renewables are set to increase each year until 2020.

Workers in hydroelectricity were the only group in the sector to grow in 2015-16, rising almost 100 to 1840, pre-empting more growth in coming years.

Malcolm Turnbull’s $2 billion Snowy Hydro upgrade is likely to generate 500 jobs, all of which will be classified as in the renewables sector by the ABS.

The bulk of these workers will not start until the 2017-18 period, assuming the feasibility study gives the go-ahead.

The project promises to provide a steadying source of power to the national grid, allowing for growth in renewable energy supply which is more intermittent than traditional forms of power generation.

The Prime Minister said on Thursday "it is going to make renewables reliable, it is the storage that we need in the 21st century to stabilise our grid and make power more secure and more affordable".

Since figures of jobs in renewables started being published by the ABS, the sector has been dominated by the spike and subsequent fall in employment in roof-top solar, matching the growth and decline in government subsidies.

Renewables are only a small part of national energy sector.

Approximately 58,000 people currently work in electricity supply. Another 13,000 are employed in gas, according to the ABS.

Global renewable energy employment increased by five per cent in 2015, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency.

At this stage, the ABS plans to publish information on the size of the renewables workforce each year until 2020.


4 min read
Published 17 March 2017 at 12:18pm
By Jackson Gothe-Snape