Investing in People for Energy Access
With training and capacity-building programs, people can gain the requisite skills to have both more opportunities in the job market and support the country's green transition.
Guest Blog by Akanksha Golchha
While the renewable sector is growing at a fast pace in India, the quality and reliability of electricity has remained a major challenge, particularly in rural areas. Distributed Renewable Energy (DRE) is a medium to provide 24 X 7 energy access to all. DRE can not only help bridge the energy access gap, but can be a powerful tool for creating jobs. Our analysis shows 3.4 million (34 lakhs) jobs, many of which would be in the DRE sector, can be created through widescale deployment of India’s clean energy goals. Expanding DRE has the potential to uplift the rural economy and generate livelihood opportunities, but only if we make sure to invest not only in the technology but in the people: providing people with the skills and power to ensure DRE deployment is successful in their communities.
The Government of India is making efforts to deploy more DRE in rural areas and hinterlands through multiple policy level interventions. Increasing capacity to operate, maintain, and repair DRE equipment locally can go a long way to increasing trust and adoption of these technologies. In many cases, the intricacies of operations and maintenance of equipment are not known. For instance, increased dust accumulation from an absence of proper cleaning may cause the efficiency of solar photovoltaic modules to fall by 50%. This, in turn, would affect the total electricity output, and prevent many households using solar-based appliances such solar pumps from deriving maximum benefits. Similarly, the early impact assessment of NRDC’s Hariyali Green Villages initiative also identifies limited capacities to repair and maintain the assets as a persistent challenge. The lack of a skilled workforce to repair and maintain biogas plants has long impeded its adoption by households, despite visible benefits in terms of reduced indoor air pollution and dependence on fossil fuels.
NRDC, along with the Association of Renewable Energy Agencies of States, Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (AREAS-MNRE), Skill Council for Green Jobs (SCGJ), and partners are developing a training tool for a host of DRE technologies. The aim is to create an ecosystem that provides capacity building and training to rural households. The training tool would equip households with basic trouble shooting, repair and maintenance of DRE technologies. In addition, the potential workforce can be equipped with the skills required to work in the DRE sector and problem solve post-sale service issues.
There are many good reasons to invest in skilling and upskilling people in India's villages.
Three key reasons are:
- Just transition and employment: With India’s aim to increase the share of non-fossil fuels in the power mix, many jobs from traditional energy sector could potentially shift to the renewable energy sector. Dedicated resources to educate and train the workforce to enable them to manage the transition will better facilitate equitable opportunities for all.
- Improving credibility of DRE technology: Lack of access to post-sales services, such as the repair and maintenance of DRE equipment, is a challenge for households. Limited knowledge about the upkeep of equipment reduces efficiency and affects expected benefits. Through education and capacity building, entrepreneurs can be trained for basic troubleshooting. Having local knowhow will help increase user trust in DRE solutions and lead to a more efficient use.
- Repair and reuse – People in India have long been followers of the “repair and reuse” philosophy. In villages especially, the concept of circular economy has been inscribed in day-to-day practices. Skilling classes and trainings would support that knowledge, and aid in both clean energy asset usability and in extending assets’ life expectancy. Further awareness can be created about recycling and alternative use cases, where possible, to ensure that people get maximum return on investments and minimize waste generation.
Capacity building is a huge opportunity to generate employment in the DRE sector for rural households. Creating standard operating procedures for minor issues in the DRE technologies and enabling households to address those issues would ensure that utility of DRE is maintained. Creating post-sale service value chains could ensure timely maintenance of DRE equipment and would encourage entrepreneurship. These enterprises can potentially become the hub of economic activities for DRE equipment within the villages. Lastly, integrating skilling courses in the educational curriculums of vocational training institutions would provide direct ways for people to empower themselves and build capacity in the DRE sector.
With training and capacity-building programs, people can gain the requisite skills to have both more opportunities in the job market and support the country's green transition. Investing in people would equip millions of job seekers to be appropriately skilled to address the persistent challenge of last-mile service delivery of clean energy technologies—a win-win situation for both the climate and economy.
Akanksha Golchha is Clean Energy Access Lead (Consultant) with NRDC