The fossil fuel sector is currently drawing resource workers from every province and territory–generating financial stability for many Canadians and their families. However, a growing body of evidence underscores that the renewable energy and clean technology sectors can create abundant jobs that are less vulnerable to the boom-and-bust cycle typical to commodity-based economies. Strong potential also exists to boost employment within the near term by creating more value-added opportunities with our existing energy systems.
According to research undertaken by the Brookings Institution, jobs in the clean sectors of the economy tend to be more manufacturing- and export-intensive. The study concluded that such jobs pay better wages, and offer more opportunities for low- and medium-skilled workers.
Further, a 2009 BlueGreen Alliance study examined the U.S. market and found that 70 to 75 percent of total labour for a typical wind turbine or solar panel stems from manufacturing the component parts.
With the right policies in place, this supply chain could be built up domestically within Canadian provinces–as we are now witnessing in Ontario. Since the 2009 passage of that province’s Green Energy and Economy Act, more than 20 clean energy manufacturers have announced plans to set up or to expand operations. In part due to that legislation’s domestic-content requirements, Canadian Solar, one of the 10 largest solar panel manufacturers in the world, opened up a large solar panel manufacturing plant in Guelph, Ontario, employing 500 workers. Germany, an early leader in clean energy, already employs more than 380,000 workers in the renewable energy sector.
The evidence basis for clean technology and strong jobs growth stretches back many years. In 2006, a benchmark University of California at Berkeley survey found that renewable energy technologies created more jobs per average megawatt of power generated and per dollar invested than did natural gas and coal.
We must find ways to support Canadians–for example, by providing training and retraining opportunities––so they can thrive
in the new jobs associated with the new energy future. With the right provincial leadership and policies today, Canada could one day prove a global success story for how a resource-based economy largely transitioned its workforce to embrace a 21st century energy model.