The Australian Bureau of Statistics’ (ABS) Employment in Renewable Energy Activities, Australia for 2014-15 reveals that the worst is behind the clean energy sector, with the figures a reflection of the tough times the industry withstood.

According to the ABS figures, annual direct full-time employment in renewables stood at 14,020 in 2014-15 – a decline of 27 per cent from the peak of 19,120 recorded for 2011-12.

Clean Energy Council (CEC) Chief Executive Kane Thornton said it is hardly surprising the employment figures were down – given the long period of investment uncertainty during the review of the national Renewable Energy Target (RET).

“The ABS figures show a drop of almost 500 jobs in the 2014-15 financial year compared to the one before, and clearly show the importance of policy stability,” Mr Thornton said.

“New RET legislation supported by both major parties was passed in June 2015, which is right at the end of the period these new ABS figures are tracking. A lot has changed since then, and confidence is growing across the sector after a challenging few years,” Mr Thornton added.

State-by-state employment figures

Since 2011-12, the ABS says most states have recorded a decline in annual direct full-time employment in renewables. The largest fall by percentage occurred in South Australia, where employment fell from 2,360 in 2011-12 to 940 in 2014-15 – a decline of 60 per cent.

For the same period, Western Australia experienced a fall of 51 per cent and Queensland 36 per cent. Conversely, NSW and both territories experienced a rise in full-time renewables employment.

Sector-by-sector employment figures

Among the renewable sectors, employment in rooftop solar PV – including solar hot water systems – comprised the largest percentage of total direct annual full-time employment, with 7,480 or 51 per cent of all renewables employment in 2014-15.

Solar PV’s dominance on employment was strongest in WA, where 94 per cent of direct full-time employment was attributable to solar power.

The ABS observed that employment figures in wind power is primarily driven by installation activity, rather than ongoing operation and maintenance. Total annual direct full-time employment in wind power varied from a low of 1,110 in 2011-12 to a high of 1,720 in 2013-14.

Although there has been a flurry of wind farm approvals and construction activity – more recently with the Sapphire Wind Farm, the Waterloo Wind Farmand the Hornsdale Wind Farm – Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) Australian head Kobad Bhavnagri at least 1,000 MW of new projects will need to obtain financing this year to demonstrate that the RET is working.

“As a result, this employment is heavily dependent on continuing formation of wind power infrastructure and is relatively volatile,” the ABS said.

However, Mr Thornton said public enthusiasm for renewable energy is high, with Australia’s largest solar power plants launched at Nyngan, Moree and Broken Hill.

“Rooftop solar is now mainstream, the large-scale wind and solar part of the industry is primed for a busy few years and everyone is ready for the arrival of battery storage.

“We are gearing up for an intense period of delivering large-scale projects such as wind and solar power plants between now and the end of the decade, which will create more jobs and investment in regional areas of the country.”

Meanwhile, biomass made a significantly greater contribution to total renewable employment (32 per cent) in Queensland than in any other state or territory. Biomass employment in Queensland rose from 1,010 in 2009-10 to 1,150 in 2012-14.

Occupying an unusual spot among Australia’s states and territories, Tasmania’s renewables employment was dominated by 81 per cent of hydropower jobs.