The shifting towards renewable energy given the serious climate change issues that surround the use of fossil fuels. This transition to a greener economy requires action on different facets like energy-efficiency, preservation of natural resources and bio-diversity. This has a direct impact on some of the key global challenges that the world faces, such as poverty alleviation, climate change, and global environmental and food security.
The sun is the most abundantly available energy source in the world. Over the years, technological advancements have made solar power one of the most reliable and affordable sources of renewable energy technology, so much so that it has emerged as a viable alternative to fossil fuels. Solar energy technologies provide an increasingly attractive option to contribute to the environment while simultaneously providing substantial economic benefits. In India, there has been a significant development of renewable energy companies – especially solar power companies. This can be attributed to new government initiatives in terms of subsidy to entrepreneurs, lucrative policies and processes. India’s ambitious target of producing 100 GW solar power by 2022 is an indication in this regard.
However, moving from a fossil fuel-based economy to a low-carbon economy and society presents its own unique set of challenges ranging from policy development and implementation strategies, to more specific and practical issues, such as the availability of market-ready technologies and skilled manpower for implementation. The challenge is to develop a workforce that possesses the knowledge, skills and competences which are required to successfully operate an efficient solar institution at various stages of its operations.
Need for Trained Personnel in the Indian Solar Industry
As India faces rising fuel demand, threats to energy security, and the impacts of climate change, solar energy is imperative for sustainable economic development. Innovative clean energy solutions, including large solar parks and rooftop solar plants in dense urban areas, can help solve these daunting challenges, while increasing energy access, creating jobs, and reducing toxic pollution. As a result, last few years have seen unprecedented focus in building solar power capacity in India. However, this rapid growth in solar energy applications has led to skill shortages and deficiencies in solar installation and maintenance. Shortages in these occupations is creating an imbalance between supply and demand and can be attributed to a speedy growth in solar installations.
Job creation in Solar Sector
A multitude of skilled manpower across the solar industry value chain would be required to achieve India’s targeted 100 GW of solar by 2022. Taking a closer look into this value chain, the skill sets of a solar resource can be broken down into four distinct categories, namely:
- Equipment Manufacturing
- Business Development/ Distribution
- Design & Pre-construction
- Construction & Commissioning
- Operations & Maintenance
Skill Gap in Indian Solar Industry
According to a report published by Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) and National Research Development Corporation (NRDC), the number of jobs created in the solar PV sector along with the related skills required in every phase of a solar project, it is estimated that India would require about 210,800 skilled solar plant design and site engineers and approximately 624,600 semi/ low-skilled technicians for executing solar EPC projects. Over and above that, around 81,000 highly skilled manpower would be required to undertake and analyse performance data monitoring of solar projects totalling 100 GW. Additionally, to carry out low-skill operation and maintenance functions, about 182,400 workers would be needed by 2022, mainly attributed to a fast growing solar rooftop and utility scale projects.
Training programs in operations & maintenance (O&M) of solar plants is the highest priority right now. The key skill needed is performance data monitoring, and it is a necessity to attract more financing into the solar sector. Given that the banks and financial institutions base their lending decisions on the availability of such critical data, availability of trained and skilled personnel to record reliable, high quality performance data can encourage financiers to invest on a broader scale in the solar industry.
Status of Training Programs in India
In the past there were over 20 distinct ministries and departments working on skill development initiatives across various occupational fields. These organizations operated independently and had taken varied approaches to skill development, resulting in inconsistent training outcomes. To resolve these inconsistencies and facilitate communication and collaboration among skill organizations, the Government of India established the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (MSDE) in 2014 as the country’s overarching skill development agency. Ever since, this has helped in enhancing the quality, effectiveness, consistency, and efficiency of training efforts, which include some key collaborators with the National Skills Development Agency (NSDA), the National Skills Development Corporation (NSDC), and a wide range of skill councils across various departments.
The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) is the fundamental supporting institution for renewable energy development in India. The ministry has made various provisions for skill development in the renewable energy workforce in the country. Some of the key initiatives that the MNRE has undertaken are as under:
The Skill Council for Green Jobs
With a view to advancing skill development in renewable energy, the MNRE set up the Skill Council for Green Jobs (SCGJ). One of the key objectives of the SCGJ is to collaborate with the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), MSDE, and NSDC, and assist in drafting skill development plans for the renewable energy industry.
National Institute of Solar Energy (NISE) and Solar Energy Training Network (SETNET)
Solar Energy Training Network (SETNET) of India was created through a partnership of United States Agency for International Development (USAID) with MNRE and India’s National Institute of Solar Energy (NISE). The aim behind establishment of SETNET is to unify India’s solar energy trainers in order to achieve better communication, collaboration, and consistency among solar training programs.
Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs)
In order to reach the grass roots and decentralize training in solar, the MNRE has been working to integrate renewable energy curriculum into numerous formal and non-formal training institutions. One such example is the inclusion of renewable energy training into numerous Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs), which will help expand the accessibility of renewable energy education.
Support from Leading Solar Companies in India
The availability of appropriately skilled manpower has been identified as one of the most prominent challenges in hiring required personnel. The solar companies in India have also shown tremendous interest in facilitating skill development initiatives in their respective work area. Many companies have started or are in the process of setting up training institutes that provide skill development initiatives to local workforce enabling employability in the solar industry.
The future for green jobs in the energy industry is promising with a growing market for both advanced skills and lower skilled professionals. As per a report by International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), globally, the sector employed 11 million people at the end of 2018 as against 10.3 million people in the previous year.
India remained at the fifth spot by employing about 719,000 people in the solar industry in 2018 and this number is estimated to grow beyond 1 million by end of 2021. This massive increase in demand for solar jobs offers a great opportunity to reduce poverty in rural areas and is unleashing a wave of entrepreneurship, besides helping India’s transition towards a green energy economy. For this to be a reality, there has been a co-ordinated effort from the government in developing the skilled manpower which can be readily inducted into the system. Although these efforts have been yielding results, there still exists a large gap, especially when compared to the ambitious 100 GW goals. One of the ways the gap can be bridged is by active participation from solar companies setting up quality skill development centers which will not only benefit them but the solar industry as a whole.
However, the biggest question lies in how the gap between academia and industry will be bridged. The quality of the training programmes needs frequent assessment, improvements and modifications to meet the needs of the volatile industry. With frequent technology changes and new R&D being initiated for challenging the current efficiency levels of solar panels, solar plants or solar projects, industry must contribute to enhancing the educational system not just theoretically but practically as well. Renewable energy is the future and the only guardian to our depleting planet, hence it is the responsibility of the industry to ensure that they partner with the educational system to make these programmes effective. It is only when the skill levels are enhanced, that employability will become a reality. As mentioned earlier there is a growing demand for these skills set and investing in competency based training with advanced curriculum and technology will inject productivity into the workforce, build livelihoods as well as take us towards a greener planet.