Mark Cuthbertson discusses renewable energy as a toolWhen we think of the benefits of renewable energy, we typically think of reducing carbon dioxide emissions and saving the environment. While renewable energy does help the environment, many people overlook the economic and social benefits of renewable energy.

A 2015 renewable energy and jobs report released by the International Renewable Energy Agency found that 7.7 people were employed by the sector worldwide, which was 18 percent more than the number reported in 2014. If you include large hydropower, you get an estimate of about 1.5 million direct jobs worldwide thanks to the renewable energy sector.

While the majority of employment opportunities are found in a small number of countries, an increasing number of countries are creating jobs by deploying renewable energy. Due to a decrease in the prices for renewable energy technologies, there are more jobs in installation, operation and maintenance.

IRENA’s 2014 renewable energy costs study shows that solar PV module prices had dropped more than 75 per cent since 2009. Residential solar PV systems were 65 per cent cheaper than they were in 2008.

Wind energy is another sector in which new jobs have emerged as a result of falling costs. Employment in wind energy passed the 1 million jobs mark in 2015. One of the most cost-competitive sources of electricity is onshore wind.

In many parts of the world, the cost of generating power from renewable energy has dropped below the cost of fossil fuels for many technologies. Biomass, geothermal, hydropower and onshore wind are all comparable with or cheaper than oil, coal or gas-fired power stations. That’s even without financial support. These low prices make a strong business case for renewable energy.

Renewable energy is typically recognized for its environmental impact. Nearly 9 gigatonnes of carbon emissions could be prevented if the share of renewables gets to 36 percent by 2030. The technologies necessary to reach this goal are already available. A number of world leaders have recognized the significance of renewable energy and the reduction of fossil fuels.

While the environmental impact is important, there are more benefits to renewable energy than helping the environment. Renewable energy is also able to create jobs, stimulate the economy, generate new sources of growth, improve trade balances and increasing income. This is an important factor that many world leaders and civilians alike seem to forget. When factoring in the social and environmental costs, renewables are cheaper than the alternative. If we do reach this goal of 36 percent, IRENA predicts that there will be more than 16 million jobs in the renewable energy sector by 2030.

Our world is struggling with high unemployment rates and recovering from an economic crisis. It is important that policy-makers take into account renewable energy’s potential to create jobs. World leaders need to approach this by training and educating people to fill job vacancies. There needs to be a set of supportive policies dedicated to governing trade, research, deployment, investment, regional development and education.

It is undeniable that renewable energy has enormous economic benefits in addition to the environmental benefits. Creating jobs, improving health and avoiding climate change are all possible if world leaders choose to focus on building jobs in the renewable energy sector.