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A recent study has found that lack of a skilled workforce and of training programmes can scupper India’s ambitious target to produce 175 GW of electricity from solar and wind power by 2022

A woman tending to maintenance work on a solar street light in her village in India. Lack of skilled workers is a big challenge for India's solar sector. (Image by DFID)

A woman tending to maintenance work on a solar street light in her village (Image by Abbie Trayler-Smith / Panos Pictures / Department for International Development)

Renewable energy is getting a major push during the ongoing Make in India week in Mumbai. But the whole effort may change little on the ground. A recent study has found that India lacks either the skilled workforce or quality training programmes that are crucial to achieve the ambitious target of installing 175 GW of solar and wind energy by 2022.

The study — Filling the Skill Gap in India’s Clean Energy Market: Solar Energy Focus — was carried out by the New Delhi-based think tank Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) and the India branch of the US-based think tank Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC).

The authors point out that solar power developers will need a multitude of skilled workers at every phase of a project. Overall, to reach its target of 100 GW solar capacity by 2022, India will need 210,800 skilled site engineers and 624,600 semi-skilled technicians for construction alone, it has been estimated.

Plus, to main these solar installations, India will need around 81,000 highly skilled workers and 182,400 low-skilled workers every year.

India’s 100 GW solar target can generate over 1.1 million jobs by 2022, spread across business development (2%), design and pre-construction (3%), construction and commissioning (72%), operations and maintenance (23%).

The 65 GW wind target is projected to create a further 183,500 jobs across the various phases. These projections do not include jobs created in the manufacturing sector, another significant opportunity.

But availability of appropriately skilled manpower is the big challenge. The solar sector may employ workers from conventional labour markets with relevant skill sets, at least for jobs such as installing solar panels on terraces. The wind sector needs workers unavailable from other industries. So far, it has relied on in-house and on-the-job training.

All renewable energy sectors suffer from a lack of established platforms to advertise jobs. Salaries are relatively low. The few training institutes are few and far between; the training programmes on offer are of poor quality.

The government has formed a Skill Council on Green Jobs and introduced several initiatives that support manufacturing, job creation and skill development.

“Make in India is not just about increasing domestic manufacturing but also about preparing a market that is conducive to the scaling up of renewable energy capacity,” says Upendra Tripathy, Secretary, Ministry of New and Renewable Energy. “The International Solar Alliance also recognises the importance of capacity building, with skills and training being central to its work. In this context, this timely report outlines the nature of skills essential for increasing renewable energy deployment in India and lays out a roadmap to upgrade these skills.”

The CEEW-NRDC findings come soon after the launch of the International Solar Alliance (ISA) by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at COP21 in December 2015. ISA is steered by a committee of 22 countries to tap into solar energy in countries lying between tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. One of its key objectives is to support skilling in member countries to facilitate widespread deployment of solar power and development of the supporting ecosystem.

Arunabha Ghosh, CEO, CEEW, says, “Without Skill India, it would be difficult to meet Make in India’s targets for the renewable sector. There is a clear need for improved training and certification programmes, which are accessible to workers of varying backgrounds and skillsets in all states. Policymakers should also consider establishing at least one prominent solar training institute in each of the renewable energy clusters of the country, along with developing renewable energy training clusters near ongoing renewable energy projects.”

“India has a tremendous opportunity to demonstrate how a growing economy can scale up green energy — creating hundreds of thousands of jobs and boosting renewable power — and protect our climate while meeting rising energy demands,” says Nehmat Kaur of NRDC India. “This comprehensive assessment of the variety of jobs, skills and training needed as India expands its solar industry will help realise Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision to transition to a low-carbon economy.”

The report has recommendations on ways to find skilled workforce in the renewable sector, such as a solar training institute in each crucial state such as Gujarat, Rajasthan and Karnataka. Then, new training programmes should prioritise geographical diversity. Training institutes should offer targeted courses or corporate training programmes. Meanwhile, courses in which trainers move from location to location can bridge the gap.

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