Creating a Skilled Workforce to Scale Up Clean Energy in India

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Guest Blog by Kanika Chawla and Neeraj Kuldeep of the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW), a New Delhi-based think tank who partners with NRDC to advance renewable energy in India

As Prime Minister Narendra Modi stated in San Jose, California last month, "India has the makings of becoming a clean energy world capital." India's revised renewable energy targets, aiming to achieve 175 gigwatts (GW) of renewable energy in the next 7 years, have received much attention both internationally and within the country. The commitment to scale up solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity from the current 4.3 GW in September 2015 to 100 GW by 2022 is a mammoth task. Similarly, increasing wind capacity from the current 24 GW to 60 GW by 2022 will be no easy task.

The policy support required to reach these targets as well as the financial mechanisms needed to attract adequate investment to realise these targets, are receiving much needed attention. However, another key aspect to achieve these targets is the availability of skilled manpower. As explored at a CEEW-NRDC roundtable held this month in New Delhi - which brought together manufacturers, developers, international experts and other renewables sector stakeholders - a first step to creating a job-ready workforce for clean energy is understanding the skill needs at each stage of a solar or wind project.

CEEW - NRDC analysis released earlier this year during RE-INVEST 2015 projects that reaching the 100 GW solar capacity target could create up to 1 million FTE jobs, and reaching the 60 GW wind capacity target could create an additional 185,000 jobs. These numbers do not include the jobs created in the manufacturing of solar cells, solar modules, and wind turbines. However, given the growing demand for solar and wind power products, coupled with the government's "Make in India" programme, a significant number of jobs could be created in the clean energy manufacturing sector. This is promising news, given India's need for 10 million new jobs every year.

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Cleaning solar panels in Rajasthan. © Sujith Ravi, CEEW

The clean jobs created will require workers across a range of skill sets. Our analysis for wind power suggests that as many as 75% of the jobs created will require workers with some level of specific skills. This underpins the imminent need to create a skilled workforce to take the jobs created by the solar and wind sectors. Government agencies have proposed a range of initiatives to strengthen the skill development infrastructure across India (as laid out in our previous blog), but a closer look at the nature of skills required at the different stages of renewable energy capacity addition is now needed.

Currently, specific trainings for renewable energy projects in universities, technical training centres and vocational centres is limited. During the CEEW- NRDC expert roundtable, we discovered that much of the training of the workforce is currently performed on site by the project developers. However, this on-the-job training approach results in project delays and a lack of standardisation across the industry. Understanding the skill needs at each stage of a clean energy project could help national agencies like the Green Sector Skill Council develop specific training programmes and curricula that will create a job-ready workforce for solar and wind projects.

The development process for solar and wind farms can be categorised into five groups: Manufacturing, Business Development, Design and Pre-Construction, Construction and Commissioning, and Operations and Maintenance. Manpower requirements vary in each phase, with construction and commissioning being the most manpower intensive, while business development is the least intensive.

  • Manufacturing: Wind and solar component manufacturers are independent of the rest of the development cycle but are directly influenced by the demand of system components. India is already one of the largest wind manufacturers in the world, exporting turbines to other countries. Manufacturing of components requires highly skilled manpower involving manufacturing engineers, technicians and operators, quality assurance specialists and R&D engineers.

    • Occupations at a wind manufacturing plant involve casting and finishing mechanical parts, metal fabrication, electro-mechanical fabrication, assembly of electrical systems and production and installation of control systems.
    • The skills required at a solar manufacturing facility are most often related to machine operations, fabrication, assembly and product testing.
  • Business Development: At this stage of a clean energy project, highly skilled personnel are required to conduct a diverse set of activities such as obtaining finance, sourcing and purchasing suitable land, obtaining permissions, and negotiating contractual agreement on power supply.
  • Design and Pre-Construction: This phase of operations requires technical understanding of each of the system components as well as the entire system, technical standards, relevant design regulations, contractual agreements and selection of manufacturers. Personnel with an engineering background with few years of relevant experience in the domain are tasked to design the entire plant with technical specification of each component.
  • Construction and Commissioning: Most of the time construction and commissioning work is contracted to an independent construction and professional service firm. Construction work includes site preparation, installation of system components and power lines, procurement of system components and commissioning. The main professional level skills required are civil, electrical and mechanical engineering. A variety of semi-skilled and unskilled technicians, electricians and construction workers are also required.
  • Operations and Maintenance: Most of the skills required during this phase are for day-to-day maintenance of system components such as wind turbines, PV modules, inverters and monitoring of system performance. Skilled engineers operate and maintain the plant with the help of semi-skilled and unskilled support teams. These jobs are permanent jobs, lasting over the life of the power plant.

CEEW and NRDC will be continuing to identify the existing gaps and needs to train a skilled workforce to facilitate the rapid scaling of the solar and wind energy sectors. The creation of such a workforce is imperative for the realisation of the country's mammoth renewable energy targets in a timely manner.