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Solar energy sector's employment raises concerns about long-term stability

The Government of India is training youth under the Suryamitra program for installation, operation and maintenance of solar energy projects.

By Rajeev Tyagi
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suryamitra program reality check

As per government data, India currently has more than 70 GW of installed solar energy capacity. Furthermore, there is almost 70 GW solar energy capacity in the pipeline as of 31st July 2023. With the goal to achieve 50% cumulative installed capacity of non-fossil energy, the power generation sector would employ a significant amount of people. India would need almost 40-50 GW of installed capacity every year to reach the Nationally Determined Contribution, NDC, targets. Hence, in the field of solar installation,  the Government of India is training youth under the Suryamitra program for installation, operation and maintenance of solar energy projects.

India's renewable energy progress data

As part of the Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Grameen Kaushalya Yojana (DDU GKY), rural youth is being trained in Solar Panel Installation Technician and other related job roles. One such training centre is established in Sitapur village, Near Uttar Pradesh Lucknow.

Kushgara Singh, facilitator of the skill development initiative, states that this is for rural development. He also talks briefly about the intention of setting up the skill development initiative in this location. Elaborating further, he emphasises the importance of green energy, particularly solar and the opportunities this expansion of renewable energy would have on the rural ecosystem. The, he mentions, 33% is reserved for women and 18% for minorities for inclusive and just transition.

Rohit, a trainee at the centre, reluctantly talks about his humble background. We didn’t insist on sharing more than he was comfortable with. Although, he cheerfully explains his learnings at the skill centre. He said he has learned about solar panels (PVs), and how to install them. When asked if he could install a rooftop solar panel system, he excitedly exclaimed YES, as it was a matter of fact!

He further elaborates, that the trainees also skilled him to identify faults in the system, which impacts the generation capacity of the solar farm/system.

Employment projections

Pinnacle Renewable Energy solar power plant, is a nearby solar farm set up by Jakson Group. The trainees are absorbed as employees in this solar farm. As Kushgara mentioned, if the job isn’t available in this particular farm, then other nearby associated solar farms employ the trainees after the successful completion of the course.

solar farm india
Picture of a solar farm situated in Uttar Pradesh

According to a CEEW report, by the year 2022, about 1 lakh 64 thousand Indians will be employed in the solar and wind energy sector, out of which 84 per cent is from solar energy only. 

Rohit was keen to get a job at the nearby solar farm, and slowly contribute to his family finances. He intends to buy a house and a vehicle with the salary he gets from a stable job. Rohit insists that he hasn’t thought much about his own needs. However, he feels the future looks more secure with the skills and an assured job.

On the question of job roles at a solar farm, Mr. Singh, says, ‘there is an entire ecosystem we are training people’. He explains, that security guards, cooks, plumbers and more are required in an ecosystem of renewable energy farms.

The catch

Employment figures in the green energy sector are increasing rapidly. However, a solar plant does not require as many people to maintain it as it does to install it. In such a situation, the question of stability in this employment arises.

Rohit Chandra, an IIT-Delhi Professor, the dichotomy of job creation in the renewable energy sector. He states that the job is indeed created but for a short period of time when the plants are being set up. He points out that the maintenance of these parks doesn’t require a lot of people. Adding to the maintenance point of the solar farms, in particular, the government’s pilot for dry cleaning robotic devices also impacts the post-installation job prospects.

On the other side, Mr Singh was asked about the difference in the number of people required to install a solar farm and to maintain it. As a response, he said, ‘There might be a difference. But, in case of flooding or heavy storm, you require technicians’

Coal energy-based employment

One implication of a just transition from a carbon-based economy to a green economy is to connect millions of people associated with this sector with new employment opportunities after the closure of coal mines in the future. There is no official estimate of how large the coal-dependent population living in the states with the availability of coal, including Jharkhand, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, and Odisha. Although, some reports suggest that the number of direct-indirect dependents could be more than 2 crores. 

In such a situation, it is a big question to what extent the new opportunities arising from renewable energy will be able to balance unemployment.

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