(Ecofin Agency) - Renewable energies have created 320,000 jobs in Africa, which accounts for 2.34% of the total employment in the sector on a global scale, according to a report published on September 28 by the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena) in collaboration with the International Labor Organization (ILO).
The report emphasizes that the continent can rely on its abundant mineral reserves essential for the energy transition to encourage the emergence of a local industry capable of generating millions of jobs.
Entitled "Renewable Energy and Jobs: Annual Review 2023," the document specifies that nearly 22% of the jobs created in the renewable energy sector in Africa are concentrated in a single country, notably South Africa.
The relatively limited number of jobs in the renewable energy sector in Africa is primarily due to the continent's low installed capacities (approximately 1% of global solar photovoltaic and wind capacities). However, the report highlights that there is enormous potential for growth in deploying renewable energies and the jobs linked to them, given the continent's abundant resources, particularly in solar and wind energy.
For African countries to truly leverage renewable energies as a catalyst for creating millions of jobs, they must focus on the manufacturing sector. In China, for instance, a significant portion of the sector's jobs is directly associated with producing equipment such as solar panels, wind turbines, electrolyzers, and the engineering and services related to these technologies.
In January 2023, several NGOs, including Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL), the African Climate Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, and ClimateWorks Foundation, collectively launched the "Africa Renewable Energy Manufacturing Initiative" (AREMI) to increase renewable energy equipment production capabilities across the continent and create substantial jobs. For this initiative to succeed, continuous efforts will need to focus on training specialized engineers and technicians. New measures are also expected to encourage the presence of foreign companies in the continent and support African industrial projects.
Taking advantage of critical minerals to develop a local industry
IRENA also points out that African countries should leverage the wealth of their subsoil in critical minerals necessary for the production of solar panels, wind turbines, and other energy transition technologies such as electric batteries to stimulate the emergence of a local industry capable of creating jobs and retaining a greater share of the added value, rather than being limited to supplying raw materials.
In this context, several countries on the continent have started to take action to exert greater control over essential minerals for energy transition. For instance, Zimbabwe banned raw lithium exports in December 2022 to develop a local electric battery industry. Similarly, the Democratic Republic of Congo implemented export restrictions on minerals used in lithium-ion batteries.
Namibia decided last June to ban the exports of lithium ore and other critical metals like graphite, cobalt, and manganese in their raw form. This trend is often encouraged by major global economic powers such as the United States and the European Union. It aligns with their aim to reduce China's control over critical minerals.
Worldwide, the report shows that employment in the renewable energy sector increased from 7.3 million in 2012 to 13.7 million in 2022. Nearly 4.9 million jobs globally are concentrated in photovoltaic solar energy, the sector with the most significant growth among renewable energy sources. Other renewable energy sectors with high employment rates include biofuels (2.5 million), hydropower (2.5 million), wind energy (1.4 million), solid biomass (779,000), solar thermal (712,000), biogas (309,000), heat pumps (241,000), and geothermal energy (152,000).
However, most jobs in renewable energy remain concentrated in a limited number of countries, especially in China, which accounts for 41% of the global total. Other countries with significant job numbers are Brazil, the European Union (EU) member states, India, and the United States.