It was a long time coming: around nine months behind schedule, Germany’s Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) has finally published the study “Beschäftigung durch erneuerbare Energien in Deutschland: Ausbau und Betrieb, heute und morgen” (Employment effects of renewable energies in Germany: expansion and operation, today and tomorrow). The study is the result of an ambitious research project by a consortium of five leading German scientific bodies. Its key message: in the long term, the jobs created by the switch to renewables will far outnumber those lost in the fossil energy sector. In the best-case scenario, the net tally could exceed a quarter of a million new jobs.
Despite the significance of these results for the debate surrounding the transformation of the conventional energy industry, the media were – remarkably – not even informed of their publication. The magazine “neue energie”, which had access to a preliminary version of the study, discussed it in its April issue. According to the analysis, when job losses in the declining coal and nuclear industries are offset against the positive employment effects of the energy transition, the result is a huge plus for the overall economy, not to mention a massive reduction in harmful CO2 emissions.
Net effects taken into account for the first time
The survey, a collaborative effort by research institutes DLR, Prognos, GWS, DIW and ZSW, incorporates data from 2004 onwards and outlines possible development scenarios up to 2050, but stops short of making firm forecasts. This long-term perspective is not the only innovation. The fact that the results are presented in terms of net employment effects could also have a lasting impact on the current debate, by quantifying the effects of the switch to renewables on the German labour market as a whole.
The conclusion is unambiguous: if decentralised expansion of renewables in Germany and Europe continues, and German exports enjoy at least moderate success, the outcome will be overwhelmingly positive. For example, the net total of new jobs created by 2030 could rise to around 100,000. And while the expansion of renewables will require additional investment until then, solar, wind and co. will subsequently bring savings, impacting positively on private consumption. As a result, net employment figures will continue to rise to 190,000 (2040) and eventually 230,000 (2050). If things go particularly well for export business, the figures will be even higher. Admittedly, traditional energy providers will lose out, as the rise of renewables encroaches on the success of conventional business models. The study predicts that the fossil fuel sector will lose 16,000 jobs in 2030, and 14,000 in 2030.
Delays and silence from the ministry
The apparent reluctance of the Ministry for Economic Affairs to publish the roughly 200-page document, now on the ministry’s website, is particularly baffling in light of the positive picture it paints of the switch to renewables. The “neue energie” report was taken up by Frankfurter Rundschau, online portal “Klimaretter” and Deutsche Welle. Subsequently, Left Party parliamentarian Eva Bulling-Schröter submitted an interpellation to the government in the Bundestag, asking when the study would be published. In his reply, State Secretary Rainer Baake explained that the publication was delayed so as to coincide with the publication of a second, parallel survey which follows a different methodological approach, arriving at “correspondingly different conclusions”.
Both studies have since been published. However, the results of the 63-page study “Wertschöpfungs- und Beschäftigungseffekte der Energiewirtschaft” (Value creation and employment effects of the energy sector), also available for download on the BMWi website, do not appear to contradict those of the main study. Our questions to the ministry about the labour market study received no reply. Why? We can only speculate. One thing is clear though: among the study’s predictions is a warning that the wrong political decisions could rob the German energy sector of its dominant position in the world market in the intermediate future. This is a worrying prospect, raised by highly respected scientists in the most important research project on the issue to date.