This is the executive summary of a recent report by SolarPower Europe titled “EU Solar Jobs Report 2021”

As the continent progresses towards its 2030 and 2050 climate ambitions, EU solar PV energy is steadily growing, with associated solar job-creation expanding rapidly. This study quantifies the number of jobs created directly and indirectly by the EU solar sector today and gives an outlook for 2025 and 2030. It employs a hybrid methodology that considers the different steps of the PV value chain – Manufacturing, Deployment, Operations & Maintenance, and Decommissioning & Recycling.

In 2020, 357,000 full-time equivalent jobs (FTEs) are employed in the EU solar sector. 150,000 FTEs, 42% of the total, are direct jobs, while 207,000 are indirect jobs. The great majority of jobs (80%) are associated with solar deployment activities. Operation & Maintenance jobs are 10% of the total, with the remaining share belonging to Manufacturing, at 6%, and Decommissioning & Recycling, at 4%.

Out of the total 23,000 jobs created by Manufacturing, inverter manufacturing provides nearly half, about 11,000 direct and indirect FTEs. Polysilicon production and module production provide 29% and 22% of total manufacturing jobs respectively. Due to the lack of production capacity for ingots/wafers and cells in the EU, less than 1,000 jobs are created by these activities.

This study provides a five-year outlook for solar job creation in the EU, based on the scenarios developed by SolarPower Europe’s Global Market Outlook 2021-2025. Thanks to the strong growth of the annual market expected in 2021, solar jobs are also set to rise significantly, with a 30% increase year on year resulting in 463,000 FTEs. According to our Medium scenario, further growth could lead to 584,000 jobs in 2025 – that’s a 64% growth compared to 2020 levels.

Job creation projections associated with manufacturing vary considerably depending on the ability to meet the European Solar Initiative 2025 goal to establish a production base equivalent to 20 GW production per annum across the whole value chain by 2025. Meeting this ambitious goal would result in 74,000 FTEs, while a low-ambition, business-as-usual, scenario expects only
32,000 FTEs. Partly meeting the ESI target – our central scenario – would signify 51,000 manufacturing jobs, a 121% growth compared to 2020 levels.

Further, the report assesses solar job creation potential with regard to the level of ambition in setting the new EU renewable energy target for 2030. With a 40% RES target, as proposed by the European Commission, solar jobs would double compared to
today’s levels, reaching 742,000 FTEs in 2030. However, with the 45% target put forward by SolarPower Europe, and an increased ambition for solar’s contribution to enable a more cost-efficient EU energy transition, solar jobs would triple, totaling 1,100,000 FTEs by the same year.

Policy Recommendations

Raise EU ambition towards 45% renewable energy target by 2030. The European Union needs at least a 45% renewables target by 2030 to be able to meet the 1.5°C Paris climate goal as it strives for carbon neutrality by 2050. The current proposal for a 40% renewable energy target by 2030 will not create the needed momentum to help transform Europe’s economy as renewables would grow too slowly.

Solar is the crucial key to Paris. Solar energy is the only technology that can decarbonise the European economy quickly, due to its cost leadership and versatility, enabling both large-scale centralised power plants and distributed solutions for industrial, commercial, and residential solutions. Both the National Energy and Climate Plan (NECP) 2030 targets of the EU members states (335 GW) and the impact assessment figures of the European Commission (479 GW) are below the installed capacity forecasted in SolarPower Europe’s Moderate scenario reaching a total operating solar capacity of 588 GW in 2030. As part of a 45% renewables target, installed solar capacities must reach 870 GW by 2030, which is 160% higher than the NECP goal, and would require on average 73 GW installations per year throughout the decade, a huge leap compared to the nearly 20 GW installed in 2020.

Policymakers should strive to establish the right conditions to enable further solar growth, which would bring more jobs in the European Union while at the same time being the most affordable means to achieve the European Green Deal. That is why slow administrative and permitting procedures need to be streamlined for fast deployment of lowcost, utility-scale solar.

Promote a solar industrial strategy for the EU to provide energy security in the long run. With solar expected to take responsibility for the major share of energy generation in a decarbonised economy, it is imperative that the European Union establishes a substantial solar manufacturing industry along the entire value chain if it does not want to rely to a large extent on imports.

The recent growth of the solar market opens a new chapter for solar PV manufacturing in the EU. Redeveloping a sizeable production in Europe is key to ensure a supply diversification and secure the resilience of the downstream industry, supporting the millions of jobs attached to it. A domestic manufacturing capacity is also critical to sustain high-quality jobs in the research ecosystems and create new engineering jobs in the manufacturing industry. Europe can count on unique strengths: a historical industrial ecosystem and know-how and leadership in many solar PV technologies. The European Solar Initiative, an industrial alliance launched by SolarPower Europe and EIT InnoEnergy together with other partners, aims to establish 20 GW of manufacturing capacity in Europe from polysilicon to modules, up from less than 1 GW on the solar cell level today. Yet, public support will be necessary to de-risk first projects and help them reach a critical scale allowing for global competitiveness.

Address job bottlenecks. There is an urgent need to train EU workers in order to have a skilled workforce to accompany the needed and expected growth of solar employment. Already today, there is a lack of skilled EU workers in clean energy technologies, which is quickly becoming a critical bottleneck that could hamper solar deployment – and in consequence the EU’s climate targets. Thus, adequate training strategies need to be developed together with sufficient investments in up- and reskilling programmes. One good example is Estonia’s recovery plan, which allocates 15 million EUR to ensure high-quality expertise required to implement the green transition in enterprises is available. This includes the updating of upskilling and retraining programmes or the development of more flexible programmes, which integrate the future needs of the green economy. However, member states must do much more to direct recovery funds towards the “Reskill and upskill” flagship, which aims at ensuring Vocational and Educational Training graduates are employed and to improve access to “on the job” training.

Develop comprehensive policy frameworks for the rooftop segment. Residential, commercial and industrial rooftop PV systems not only hold a huge solar potential enabling prosumers, they also create more jobs than utility-scale systems, because of their higher labour intensity during the installation phase. Therefore, strategies must be rapidly developed to deploy rooftop PV to unlock this massive solar and job potential. Integrated renovation strategies must accelerate renovation rates of buildings and encourage the installation of solar PV in buildings. Individual and collective self-consumption must not only be allowed but incentivised by the development of national regulatory frameworks. Price signals and incentives should be granted to prosumers to unlock their flexibility.

Promote diversity in the solar industry. The renewable energy sector employs a significantly higher number of women compared to the energy sector overall. Still, women cover only 32% of renewable energy jobs, and the percentage of women in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM jobs) is just 28%. Access to training and skills development programmes has been identified as the top priority to improving gender balance in the renewable energy sector. A more diverse EU workforce in terms of gender, social and ethnic background, sexual orientation would also allow to better utilize the talents and skills of EU workers.

The complete report can be accessed here