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An employee walks between rows of solar panels at a solar power plant on the outskirts of Dunhuang, Gansu province June 10, 2011.

SHENG LI/REUTERS

More than eight million people now toil in the renewable-energy industry around the world, with the solar sector employing the largest number of workers.

The latest annual review by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) shows that the growth in clean-energy jobs rose by about 5 per cent in 2015 to 8.1 million. China has the highest employment numbers with 3.5 million workers, followed by Brazil with 918,000 and the United States with 769,000

Canada has the 11th-largest number of jobs in the sector, with about 36,400 renewable-related jobs, well behind countries such as India, Japan, Germany and France.

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According to a report released in February by think tank Clean Energy Canada, investment in Canada's renewable-power sector slumped sharply in 2015, despite strong growth worldwide. Clean Energy Canada blamed the "patchwork" of provincial policies and years of limp federal support. But it expressed optimism for a surge of investment and job creation because of the new government in Ottawa and new renewable energy targets in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

IRENA's report says companies in the solar-voltaic industry employed the largest group of people in the renewable sector, with about 2.8 million jobs worldwide. That's was up 11 per cent in 2015. Biofuels came second, with 1.7 million workers (with about half of that in Brazil), and wind was next, with 1.1 million jobs.

The totals in the report did not include the estimated 1.3 million people working in large hydroelectric sector, which is a substantial industry in parts of Canada. Hydro isn't included because investments fluctuate widely from year to year, making it hard to count overall employment growth.

The IRENA report said government policies that support renewables – along with declining costs – are encouraging demand in Asia. This is showing up in the high employment numbers in that part of the world. It noted that the production of photovoltaic equipment, such as solar panels, is now concentrated in manufacturing hubs in China and Japan.

While the number of jobs in renewable energy rose in 2015, employment in traditional energy – including oil and gas – fell in most countries, the report said. "The continued job growth in the renewable-energy sector is significant because it stands in contrast to trends across the energy sector," said Adnan Amin, director-general of IRENA.

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