Editorial Articles

Volume-32, 10-16 November, 2018


Job opportunities in Solar Sector in India

Dr. Ranjeet Mehta

India has a massive need for energy. Its per capita consumption of electricity is less than one third the world average. Indian Government has set a target of achieving 100 GW (gigawatt) of solar power by 2022. This  target will principally comprise of 40 GW Rooftop and 60 GW through Large and Medium Scale Grid Connected Solar Power Projects, out of the total 175 GW the country plans to produce from renewable sources. This  ambitious target of 175 GW of Renewable by 2022 includes 100 gigawatts of solar energy, 60 GW of wind energy, 10 GW of bioenergy and 5 GW of small hydro.

As part of its efforts under the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, India, the world's third largest emitter of greenhouse gases in absolute terms, has committed to cutting its emissions by a third by 2030 from 2005 levels. To meet this goal, the contribution of renewable energy to India's electricity capacity should double to 40% by 2030.

India represents a reliable, fast growing, diversified and financially viable market opportunity for development of renewable energy. The country faced with the challenge of a growing population, provision of rural electrification and deep energy shortages, simply has to add other generation sources. India's need to promote and provide stimulus to new and renewable energy sources arises from the fact that primary fuels i.e. crude and coal account for our single largest import. During high commodity price cycles, the country has faced constrained supplies of primary fuel, high budgetary deficit and resultant inflation. Another important consideration for a rapidly developing economy like India, to promote renewable energy is climate change with coal as a fuel contributing to 55% of  generated energy mix. Higher usage of fossil fuels for energy generation would account to higher emission of carbon contributing to unsustainable development.

Solar is expected to become a crucial energy source in India's energy portfolio in the next decade. One of the major reasons for development of solar energy stems from the fact that it can be set up in the shortest duration compared to other energy sources.  The UN Environment Program's (UNEP) 'Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2016' report ranked India among the top ten countries in the world investing in renewable energy. Globally India is ranked 4th when it comes to capacity addition of renewable energy resources, which is led by United States, China and Japan.

Solar energy potential estimated by National Institute of Solar Energy is about 750 Giga Watt (GW). This is spread across a number of states namely Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat. Endowed with more than 300 days of sunshine a year, India is making strides towards becoming a global solar superpower. Since 2009, when the country first launched the National Solar Mission, it has installed solar parks on large tracts of unused land across the country.

Employment opportunities in Solar Sector

Solar energy is extremely critical for world economies because of the number of methods in which the sun's radiation is put to use in a vast array of solar products ranging from solar panels, solar street lights, to solar inverters, solar UPSs, solar mobile chargers, solar fans, solar cables, solar mobile chargers, solar home systems, and even solar CCTV cameras. Just think about the number of people who would be employed in the manufacturing, sales or installation of so many products. Today, jobs in clean energy become more available and well-paid because, according to European Defence Fund (EDF), solar energy supply companies are able to offer more jobs per dollar invested. It develops 12 times faster than the whole US economy.

The solar sector has emerged as a new industrial domain over the recent years. With more and more people beginning to install solar panels in their homes and offices for meeting their energy requirements, the solar industry is developing faster than ever before in sales, installation and manufacturing verticals. If we have a look at the employment generated in the United States, the solar industry has employed more than 350,000 people thus far and it is projected that by 2025, an additional 202,000 jobs are going to be created.

India has a population of 1.3 billion people. It is estimated that by 2022, the solar energy industry would generate as many as 1.6 million jobs with over 600,000 jobs focused in the construction vertical alone.

The global  trends in recent times have been witnessed that United States, China, and Germany are pushing for renewables, which made them launch a plan to reduce the global gas emissions by 40%. It will include building factories generating clean energy that would require creating 430,000 additional jobs. As a direct result, global use and implementation of solar technology has been on a steady rise since the early 2000. Solar is now the fastest rising source of renewable energy in the world, reaching about 1% of the total energy produced globally. In fact, solar energy production now rivals nuclear power globally. Solar energy reached a capacity of about 350 GW (gigawatts) globally in 2015, compared to nuclear energy which topped out at 391 GW in the same year. In addition, it is predicted that at the current rate of conversion to solar energy, it will overtake the use of fossil fuels by 2050, with most of the globe running on energy produced by the sun.

Since Renewable Energy is decentralised power, there are opportunities for generating jobs in villages. India's push to significantly strengthen the share of renewable energy to fuel its development growth can have other positive spillover impacts. In addition to improving energy security, enhancing energy access, and mitigating climate change, renewable energy (RE) may be able to help reduce poverty, by creating jobs. These being jobs that require high to minimal professional skills, there is employment potential for even those with limited educational opportunities along with the professionals.

Jobs in solar sector are expected to create opportunities for poverty reduction along the renewable energy supply chain. Currently, there are 100,000 people employed in solar energy and another 48,000 in wind energy sectors. This number is expected to go up to 330,000 by the time India achieves its target of generating 160 GW from solar and wind energy by 2022, as per  a study by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water and the Natural Resources Defense Council. The WRI's study is a qualitative analysis of these jobs, about how they have the potential to reduce poverty, especially in rural India.

The jobs will be geographically dispersed in areas located away from towns and cities, thereby spreading the economic benefits. These are also areas where people have fewer renewable energy skills and few alternative employment opportunities other than seasonal farming.

In solar technology, a minimum of 17 people are required per megawatt (MW) of installed capacity - from manufacturing to the operation, unlike coal where hardly five are needed. As a result, employment generation in coal is restricted, unlike solar or the RE sector, which are distributed and more people are needed to maintain and operate it.

In the years to come, jobs will be created related to other applications of the solar technology, such as for water pumps used for drinking water and irrigation projects. Since it is a versatile technology, the opportunity for employment is also vast.Solar energy projects create green jobs and provide a boost to India's developing economy. In a country where keeping up with the growing population's increasing energy demands is daunting, harnessing this clean and renewable energy source can help meet energy needs in a sustainable way while providing new economic opportunities. Solar photovoltaic (PV) is recognized as creating more jobs per unit of energy produced than any other energy source; thus it potentially represents a much needed solution to unemployment in the face of India's burgeoning population and labor force.

As India ramps up its solar installations at a rapid rate during the second phase of its Mission, an opportunity exists to increase public support for this potentially transformative energy resource. One easy way to demonstrate the local benefits of clean energy is to publicize job creation numbers.

Finally, it can be concluded that solar energy projects create many local jobs in India-both one-time jobs during the pre-commissioning construction phase and permanent operations and maintenance positions over the multi-decade life of the solar plant. Supporting the growth of the solar industry and the reporting of jobs numbers by local businesses can continue this promising trend. A robust solar market is instrumental in creating jobs in India's developing economy in addition to providing renewable energy and increasing energy access.According to international market reports, solar PV creates a significant number of jobs. In fact, some studies indicate that the industry creates more jobs per unit of energy produced than any other energy source, particularly during the construction and installation of solar PV power plants. Within the PV market, direct jobs are those created by firms that are directly focused on PV project execution: solar developers, EPC firms, and PV component manufacturers. In contrast, indirect jobs are created by businesses that provide more generic services to the PV industry, such as suppliers of raw materials for manufacturing, electricity suppliers, and public officers who deal with administration and finance.Construction and commissioning consists of the actual installation of the project and setting up a connection to the national power grid. Direct jobs are created for construction workers, electricians, technicians, engineers, meteorologists, and technicians working for equipment vendors (such as inverter suppliers). Both skilled and unskilled workers are required during this phase of execution. Operations and maintenance creates direct jobs for technicians, electricians, maintenance and security staff, and operations managers. Both skilled and unskilled workers are required to carry out O&M in the plant.

(Dr. Ranjeet Mehta is Principal Director, PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry New Delhi, Email ranjeetmehta@ gmail.com) Views expressed are personal.

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