Why “Saubhagya” and skills are inseparable

For India’s decentralized renewable energy (DRE) sector, a mass deployment of solar home systems, green mini-grids and rural livelihood appliances is a multi-billion-dollar opportunity...

अतिथि लेखक
Why “Saubhagya” and skills are inseparable

by Dr. Praveen Saxena

Many challenges remain in achieving 24/7 quality, affordable electricity access for all Indians by 2022, including technology, finance and policy.

Yet one of the often under-appreciated but critical challenges is whether we have enough human capital -- a skilled workforce and the entrepreneurial talent -- in rural India to manage, install, service and finance power supply for the tens of millions of households and millions of small businesses that lack reliable access.

But what is a challenge for some is an opportunity for others.

For India’s decentralized renewable energy (DRE) sector, a mass deployment of solar home systems, green mini-grids and rural livelihood appliances is a multi-billion-dollar opportunity to build domestic industry while at the same time delivering on two of India’s top development goals -- more employment, especially for women and youth, and more electricity.

In order for that to happen, however, a much greater focus must be placed on training a new generation energy workforce -- one that understands and appreciates the rural consumer, distributed solar and the agricultural value chain, which employs over 40% of all Indians. Rural customers are often an afterthought for India’s cash-strapped DISCOMs, which are best equipped to serve the urban and commercial and industrial customer.

The launch of the Surya Mitra program, with a target to provide skills to 50,000 technicians in solar PV installation and maintenance (about 30,000 have been trained so far), was an important first step, as was the creation of the Skill Council for Green Jobs, which aims to implement nationwide, industry-led skills development and entrepreneur development.

But the potential market for rural economic development powered by DRE is still mostly untapped. A recent report by CEEW found that there is a $50 billion market for clean-energy powered livelihood appliances in rural India, which doesn’t even include a $30 billion solar water pump market.

By some estimates, the solar energy job opportunity in India -- which is pushing to build 175 gigawatts of solar and wind by 2022 -- is at least 300,000 workers, substantially more than current levels. Meanwhile, 300 million rural Indians remain without power. Where will that talent come to serve these consumers and meet these goals?

If we want to succeed in India’s quest for 24/7 Power for All, additional focus is required in the following areas:

  • Better remote and e-learning infrastructure -- often the talent is removed from the rural or remote places that need it
  • Improved integration of the skills needed for last-mile electrification -- i.e. distributed systems, appliance servicing and agricultural processing
  • Local apprenticeship programs that work with private sector business and local NGOs to provide hands-on training to locally sourced talent
  • Increased awareness of rural electrification career opportunities on Indian campuses
  • Scaling and expanding an ecosystem approach to skills and training (including technical, but also banking, sales and marketing, etc.)
  • Putting women and youth at the center of training initiatives, since they are best able to navigate the rural market

Overall, there must also be closer collaboration between the public and private sector on creating a new energy workforce for India. Past experience shows that a silo-ed approached by one or the other of these two stakeholders’ results in sub-optimal results.

{Dr. Saxena is CEO of the Skill Council for Green Jobs, and a partner in the newly launched #PoweringJobs campaign (powerforall.org/powreingjobs) }

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