Vicinity Centres plans to reach its net zero target through its $73 million solar program as well as energy efficiency measures.

Job opportunities in the green economy are growing in number and variety, with batteries and storage now looking like the dark horse winner for jobs growth in Australia.

The latest research from the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed that 17,740 full time equivalent workers were employed in renewable energy activities in Australia in 2017-18, representing a 28 per cent increase from the previous year (FTE).

Behind the hike is an increase in large scale solar projects, with jobs on solar farms tripling since last year to more than hydro. Despite this jump in solar farm jobs, rooftop solar PV jobs remains the top source of jobs, making up just less than half of total jobs in the sector.

Queensland jobs are getting greener

In Queensland – the battleground for much of the debate about transitioning out of carbon-intensive industries such as coal mining – there was the largest reported increase in renewables jobs (1550). This was driven mostly by the increase in solar farm projects, according to the ABS.

Although Queensland took out the top spot, all states reported an increase in FTE employment in renewable energy activities between 2016-17 and 2017-18, but both territories reported small declines.

Depending on the forward policy environment, jobs growth in this industry looks likely to continue.

The latest research from The Australia Institute (November 2018) shows that 53 per cent of renewable energy capacity by 2030 would create between 18,000 and 59,000 direct jobs across the country. This analysis was based on the Australian Energy Market Operator’s “fast scenario” in its Integrated System Plan.

Big jobs growth in the regions

A key finding of the report is that much of the jobs growth will be in regional areas, which are particularly vulnerable to the winding back of carbon-intensive industries such as coal mining and coal power plants.

“A large proportion of the jobs being created in renewable energy are outside of the major city centres, which has the potential to give regional Australia a much needed boost,” director of research at The Australia Institute Rod Campbell said.

“In the decade to 2030, there are far more jobs in building new renewable generation than there currently are in operating our aging fossil fuel generators. In the longer term, the operation of utility scale renewables is likely to have similar levels of employment to fossil fuel generators.”

Not all jobs in renewables are likely to be ongoing, however, and because it’s capital intensive it’s unlikely to ever employ as many people as major service industries such as education and health care.

The majority of jobs will be created during the construction and installation phase, but more than 10,000 ongoing jobs could be created in the maintenance and operation of renewable energy facilities under the policy.

Mr Campbell told The Fifth Estate that the wide discrepancy in forecasted jobs growth – 18,000 to 59,000 – is dependent on how much assembly and manufacturing will be done in Australia.

He said that the analysis was done on the assumption that there would be very little or no manufacturing done in the country, but announcements like the new wind turbine manufacturing hub in Geelong and German battery storage manufacturer sonnen Group’s setting up shop in the old Holden car plant in Adelaide suggests that manufacturing could play a more significant role than expected.

Mr Campbell also said that in the next refresh of the research, battery storage and household batteries employment will likely be included.

This is because the way household storage is featuring in public policy suggests that manufacturing batteries and installation could also be a significant employer, as well as the resources in the supply chain thanks to Australia’s stores of lithium and other battery minerals.

Some are already starting to recognise the role mining will play in the renewables transition, with an increase in renewables likely to trigger a mining boom that will become a source of jobs in future.

Renewable hydrogen is also set to become a big job creator in the near future, with Australian hydrogen exports expected to contribute $1.7 billion to the economy and create 2800 jobs by 2030 (provided policy-makers get on board), according to Australian chief scientist Dr Alan Finkel’s report Hydrogen for Australia’s Future.

Beyond renewables

But it’s not just about renewables. The transition to a circular economy that sees products designed and optimised for a cycle of disassembly and reuse, rather than the traditional linear model that relies on a “take, make, dispose” process of production.

The South Australian government released a report in 2017 that made it the first jurisdiction to try to quantify the benefits a circular economy would have on the state. The report found that by 2030, compared to a business as usual scenario, a more circular economy could result in an additional 25,700 full time jobs for the state.

The circular economy opens up both “blue collar” jobs in remanufacturing and other administrative processes. There’s also “white collar” roles to be filled in design and principles to design products that can be easily reused at end of life.

There’s also jobs in green building construction, water quality, biodiversity activities and sustainable agriculture such as urban farming, among others.

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