Both clean energy technologies—including renewables—and digitalization are gaining ground side by side, and as a result, the jobs we have known so far are gradually changing. What effect does this have on the economy, and what can we do to get more women employed by the energy industry? We talked to Dr. Veronika Czakó, Socio-Economic Analyst of the Joint Research Centre (JRC), the European Commission’s in-house science and knowledge service unit, about the changes taking place in the sector.
Dr. Veronika Czakó is a panel member of the panel discussion taking place at Planet Budapest 2021, on 30 November, entitled Session 2: Climate Change – From Threats to Opportunities, From Burden to Creation of Added Value. In 2020, she authored the report Employment in the Energy Sector, commissioned by the Joint Research Centre.
The EU has committed to reaching carbon neutrality by 2050 in the European Climate Law, and meeting this commitment also involves the shift to renewable energy. How is the European Union’s economy affected by the increased expansion of clean energy technologies, including renewables?
Innovation and a reallocation of factors of production—including labour—between economic sectors are prerequisites of transitioning to a climate-neutral economy. An important milestone for reaching carbon neutrality by 2050 is achieving at least a 55% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in the EU-27 by 2030. The reallocation of resources needed for the transition to a climate-neutral economy is seen as a moderate—at worst, limited—constraint to GDP growth with a time frame up to 2030—based on the macroeconomic analyses of the “Impact Assessment of the 2030 Climate Action Plan”. The fossil fuel sectors (particularly the coal sector at first) will experience a decrease both in emission and in employment. The economic benefits of the clean energy transformation will be enjoyed by the entire energy service sector and also by the electric appliances, agriculture, and forestry sector as well.
What effects will the transformation have on employment? For example, what kind of old positions will disappear and what kind of new positions will emerge? Will unemployment rates soar, or will the change, in fact, create more jobs?
Measures that are intended to decrease greenhouse gas emissions—by 55% compared to emissions in 1990, which are to be reached by 2030—are expected to have a moderate effect on the employment market of the EU-27 countries. Based on the impact assessment conducted by the European Commission, strengthened climate policy measures—compared to normal measures over this time frame—may increase the overall employment level by up to 884,000 net jobs (+0.45%).
The scope of work for certain positions may change as a result of a green transformation conducted parallelly with digital transformation. While certain jobs (for example, jobs in the healthcare sector) will remain unaffected or will only be moderately affected, in other sectors they may experience a substantial change (for example remote controlling and supervision of interconnected, autonomous, electric vehicles from a control room in the transport industry). The importance of technical competencies and digital literacy skills will increase, both throughout society and in the economy. The green transformation will require the widespread adoption of a sustainable approach and mindset as a core competence within the labor market.
Your research also addresses the problem of the underrepresentation of women in STEM jobs. Why do fewer women seek employment in the energy sector and what can be done to improve this situation?
The workforce composition of the energy industry and corresponding industries is historically male-dominated. As for the traditional energy sector, women make up 22% of the global workforce, while this number reaches 32% in the renewable industry sector. For certain positions, this is partly explained by the place, physical characteristics, and time schedule of the work (for example in mining; building, operation and maintenance of high sea drilling rigs and wind turbines). Female employees of the energy sector are mainly employed in administrative positions. However, it is very important to widely promote modern, technical studies among women, already at a primary school level. The energy supplier industry is among the biggest winners of the green transformation, and its demand for a skilled workforce is growing, and this could be partly fulfilled by female employees. Furthermore, it’s beneficial both from the perspective of the industry and of society to increase the diversity of prestigious jobs with a high salary and good career prospects.
Focusing on a smaller scale than the European Union, what measures can support achieving carbon neutrality and climate protection either on an individual or city level?
The establishment of the local energy community and the possibility of joining it can help to both optimize individual carbon neutrality and to improve the ability of individuals to participate in politics. The decrease of individual energy consumption can even be beneficial to one’s financial situation without the need of an investment, simply by changing one’s behavior. Energy communities may be able to reach total energy independence by establishing self-owned, renewable energy projects together, and by finding financing opportunities to do so (even with crowdfunding). By including households that face energy depravity or already suffer from it in these projects, further increases the usefulness of sustainability in the community.