India’s Decentralised Renewables Workforce To Double By 2022-23

(This article was originally published in July 2019 . It has been republished from The Quint’s archives to mark Renewable Energy Day.)

India’s decentralised renewable energy (DRE) sector – which generates, stores and distributes renewable energy locally – could employ nearly 100,000 more people by 2022-23, according to a new report.

While most of these jobs are expected to be long-term, women constitute only a quarter of the workforce in this sector. With this addition, the DRE sector’s workforce could double in size – from about 95,000 jobs in 2017-18 to 190,000 jobs by 2022-23 if the mini-grid market “continues to expand at a rapid pace”.

The number of informal jobs in the DRE sector is expected to remain stable at around 210,000, noted the first Powering Jobs Census 2019: The Energy Access Workforce report by Power for All, a coalition campaigning to scale DRE, released on 15 July, 2019.

This comes at a time when India is facing a 45-year high unemployment rate, according to the Periodic Labour Force Survey released by the National Sample Survey Office in May 2019. Of nearly 61 million jobs created in India over 22 years post-liberalisation of the economy in 1991, 92 percent were informal jobs, according to an IndiaSpend analysis.

The report captures DRE employment data for 2017-18 to establish a baseline that explores the link between Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7 (access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all) and SDG 8 (inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment, and decent work for all).

The report covers India, Kenya and Nigeria: The DRE sector is estimated to add more than 260,000 direct, formal jobs in these countries by 2022-23. In India, 36 companies in the sector were surveyed.

Renewable Appliance Firms Are the “Job Engine”

End-user product providers – that is, companies that sell pico solar appliances (that use small amount of power for gadgets such as calculators, cameras and mobile phones), solar home systems, and other small, off-grid appliances directly to customers – are the “job engine of the sector”, the report said, adding that they are expected to add 86,000 direct, formal jobs nationwide by 2022-23.

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These companies alone accounted for 97 percent of 95,000 DRE jobs created in 2017-18. In addition, they added 470,000 “productive-use jobs” – created by the DRE end users as a result of newly-acquired or enhanced electricity access – in the same year.

“The bulk of these direct, formal jobs (85 percent) are full-time and long-term, or lasting more than a year, as the average employee retention period is 39 months,” the report noted.

The renewable energy sector created 47,000 new jobs in India in 2017, employing 432,000 people, according to a report by the inter-governmental International Renewable Energy Agency, IndiaSpend reported on 5 July, 2018. The solar photovoltaic industry was the largest employer of all renewable energy technologies, accounting for close to 3.4 million jobs worldwide, including 2.2 million in China and 164,000 in India, it added.

It is estimated that project developers and installers – companies that generally work with larger projects ranging from a few hundred watts to a few kilowatts – provided about 770 direct, formal jobs and 190 direct, informal jobs to deploy 9.5 megawatts (MW) of standalone and grid-tied solar in 2017-18. By 2022-23, the number of direct, formal jobs in this area is expected to rise 108 percent to 1,600 and direct, informal jobs by 111 percent to 400.

The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy “targets to achieve deployment of at least 10,000 RE [renewable energy] based micro and mini grid projects across the country with a minimum installed RE capacity of 500 MW in next 5 years”, according to this 2016 draft national policy on RE based mini/micro grids.

Renewable energy technologies that are decentralised have substantial potential to provide a reliable and secure energy supply as an alternative to grid extension or as a supplement to grid-provided power, particularly in rural areas.

In case of high mini-grid penetration, where 500 MW is expected to be installed by 2022-23, “the mini-grid operators would provide more than 90,000 direct, formal jobs” and under a low mini-grid penetration scenario “of 60 MW worth of mini-grid energy, 11,000 direct, formal jobs would be provided”, the report noted.

The government’s support for productive-use applications such as solar water pumping could add about 10,000 additional jobs, the report added.

Over a five-year period till 2022-23, the government plans to deploy 1.75 million solar water pumps through the Kisan Urja Suraksha evam Utthaan Mahabhiyan (farmers’ energy protection scheme) or KUSUM scheme, the report noted.

The government “must educate the distribution companies that this [KUSUM] can revolutionise the Indian energy economy, especially because the farm sector uses around 23 percent of the electricity generated but is responsible for nearly 85 percent of the losses,” Tushaar Shah, economist and public policy expert, told IndiaSpend in an interview on 7 May, 2018.

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Of India’s targeted 175 gigawatt (GW) renewable energy capacity by 2022, the government plans to produce 100 GW. Of this, India has achieved 30 GW of utility and rooftop solar capacity, and the remaining 70 GW would add 220,000 jobs in the sector, Neeraj Kuldeep, programme lead at Council For Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW), a research partner in the survey, told IndiaSpend. About 199,000 of these would be in the labour-intensive rooftop solar sector, he added.

“The growth of the distributed renewable energy sector holds significant potential in providing employment at various stages within the ecosystem, thereby increasing economic opportunities for rural communities,” said Arunabha Ghosh, chief executive officer of CEEW, in a press statement. “Increasing income levels further increases the purchasing power for these communities, making them value reliable electricity supply and, in turn, positively impact their quality of life.”

Fewer Women, Increasing Youth Workforce in DRE Companies

Women’s participation in almost every type of DRE company is low, except for sector service providers – such as research and advocacy organisations. India’s workforce has fewer women than it did six years ago: no more than 18 percent in rural areas are employed, compared to 25 percent in 2011-12 and 14 percent in urban from 15 percent, IndiaSpend reported on 2 July, 2019.

All companies have shown “high willingness to employ young people”, the report said. India will need to create 8 million jobs per year, noted a 2018 World Bank report on jobless growth.

Only 25 percent of the direct, formal jobs are held by women in the end-user product provider segment – in line with the average (23 percent) in the three countries surveyed.

In India, women reportedly make up just 11 percent of the rooftop solar sector’s workforce compared to 32 percent globally.

The end-user product providers employ more women – about 60 percent – informally. Further, 86 percent of the direct, formal jobs created by such companies are skilled compared to less than half in the renewable energy industry globally. Youth (aged 15-24 years) constitute half the workforce in these companies.

DRE companies actively engage women from local communities in sales and distribution activities, and these women act as social networkers, influencers and entrepreneurs in the community, according to Kuldeep from CEEW.

While project developers and installers have 25 percent women among direct, formal employees and 44 percent of youth in their workforce, mini-grid companies have a poor gender balance, with women comprising only 2 percent of the workforce.

The manufacturing and upstream supply chain companies are hiring more women than the industry average, with women accounting for 37 percent of direct, formal jobs, the report added.

These companies also employ a highly skilled, young workforce, at 80 percent and 68 percent, respectively.

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Since these jobs are primarily based in rural India, “hiring and retaining a skilled workforce is more challenging”, Kuldeep said. “Companies prefer to hire people with basic technical knowledge – such as Suryamitras [who attend a skilling programme] –and skill them by providing training during their employment period.”

Among the sector service providers such as research, advocacy, and awareness-raising organisations, women constitute half the workforce. The required workforce is also highly skilled: about 96 percent of the workforce is skilled, yet only 6 percent are youth.

“This is because sector service providers generally comprise a small number of highly experienced sector experts to carry out research and advocacy work,” the report noted. “Therefore, skill level is high and youth participation is low.”

(Published in an arrangement with IndiaSpend.)

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