From a perennially energy-deficient state with a peak shortage of 14 per cent in 2010 to a peak shortage of less than one per cent in 2018, India has moved miles from the days of energy blackouts and frequent power cuts. A lot of this was propelled by the penetration of thermal power using coal and natural gas as fuel. However, with the world clamouring for clean energy and reduction of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane, the focus has invariably shifted to solar and wind energy. The development in the last couple of years in terms of grid parity underscores the strides made in technologically-advancing solar panels and easy availability of funds for setting up capacities.
The scenario highlights the potential opportunity for skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled workforce that would be required at various stages of sourcing raw materials, supply chain, manufacturing, processing, delivery, retailing, installations, and operations and maintenance. In the last year alone, the solar sector has employed more than 30,000 job seekers into the workforce that stands at 164,000 in total or 23 per cent of the targeted job creation by 2022.
In a draft study titled, Economic Rate of Return for Various Renewable Energy Technologies that the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy brought out in 2016, the government estimates that the solar sector would require around 691,857 highly skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled manpower by 2022. The government estimates were based on the requirement of jobs on per megawatt basis based on a Skill Gap Report for Solar, Wind and Small Hydro Sector by Skill Council for Green Jobs.
In a country blessed with nearly 3,000 hours of sunshine every year, which is equivalent to 5,000 trillion kWh of energy, there is immense potential for employment creation through solar as a means of power generation. India can generate over 1,900 billion units of solar power annually, which is enough to service the entire annual power demand even in 2030. However, this could be best achieved through a strong framework and a policy initiative focused on creating an ecosystem that suits the Indian solar industry. Alternatively, states like Rajasthan and Gujarat that have maximum solar energy potential with solar irradiance for almost 12 months- which is good enough for setting up power plants- can exploit the potential for about 8-9 months in a year and can also double up for component manufacturing purposes. The availability of barren land complements and increases the feasibility of solar energy systems as well.
To materialise the target of 100 GW solar capacity by 2022, India needs to enhance its manufacturing capacity which is currently at 1,590 MW of solar cells and 5,620 MW of solar modules, hardly making up for 20 per cent of the total requirements at present. More than 80 per cent of India's requirement for solar cells and modules are met through imports, while there is zero manufacturing of ingots, silicones and wafers in the country. If harnessed properly, they alone can create 200,000 jobs.
The government has stated that for the long-term security of national target, around 70-75 per cent of inputs should be manufactured locally. To support the industry, the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) in December 2017 invited expressions of interest from interested players for setting up 20,000 MW of vertically-integrated solar manufacturing capacity over the next three years. The concept note prepared by MNRE said the policy would extend support to the manufacturers of solar cells and modules to expand and upgrade the existing facilities or set up new manufacturing units for solar products at par with international standards. The objective is to eventually have the entire spectrum of manufacturing- from poly-silicon to modules, it said.
Amit Gupta, Head, Legal and Business Affairs, Vikram Solar said, there is a potential for around 1 million job creation from the government's national push for 100 GW solar capacity by 2022. However, 'Once the clarity on manufacturing policy comes, it would be an added advantage for the industry to move into backward integration of products such as ingots, wafers and cells, and expansion of existing capacities. Besides, clarity on domestic content requirement would create a lot more sustainable and direct jobs in the sector,' Gupta said.
'Indian companies also have to face direct competition from cheap Chinese and other foreign manufacturers. The governments' positive stance on safeguard duties on manufacturing units operating in SEZs would also save existing jobs,' Gupta added.
Rajendra Parakh, Chief Financial Officer, Vikram Solar said, 'It should be noted that the solar industry generates employment at various stages starting from manufacturing, engineering and execution of the projects. According to the studies, 1 GW of solar installation creates approximately 5,000 jobs.'
Prashant Khankhoje, Director, Global Energy, an energy profiling company said, the creation of 100 GW generation capacity means availability of skilled resources in areas like research and development in solar technology, arrangement of funds for these projects, manufacturing and import of solar panels, packing and delivery of panels and allied equipment, development of solar projects including planning, engineering, procurement, construction, development of civil infrastructure, development of electrical infrastructure, synchronisation with grid and metering, operation and maintenance, coordination with statutory authorities, regulatory authorities, and distribution and transmission companies.
'All these areas need skilled manpower running into lakhs. There are a few more areas like forecasting and scheduling, and storage and ancillary services which are in the development stage. These areas will also create jobs in addition to the existing areas,' Khankhoje said.
Ditto to Khankhoje, Vineet Mittal, Chairman, Solar Power Producers Association said, 'India needs to create an ecosystem for manufacturing. There are around 15 industries which are dependent on solar, whether it is steel structure, cables, DC cables, switch gear, transformers, inverters, etc. What needs to be created is a manufacturing industry of silicone manufacturers, ingots and wafers by devising a framework similar to what exists in countries like China, the US and Korea.'
According to Mittal, the remaining 80,000 MW capacity by 2022 would require an investment of Rs 4,000 billion in the next four years. Even if Rs 2,000 billion investment happens by 2022, it would create a huge industry along with an ecosystem for components and ancillaries manufacturers. 'The framework should have an elaborate detail on upfront subsidy, operating subsidy, interest subvention and electricity rates as offered in China to make the industry viable against the imports,' Mittal said.
Apart from the skilled workforce required to construct and operate a solar plant, the unfortunate thing about the Indian solar sector and renewables in general has been the lack of progress in technology development, economies of scale on the lines of what China and Korea have achieved and policy eco-system ensuring world-class productivity. Land acquisition, power evacuation infrastructure, consumer awareness, financing infrastructure and Renewable Purchase Obligation (RPO) compliance are some of the other challenges facing the industry.
Besides, it is assumed as yearly targets and deployments increase, labour shortage might complicate the problem further. India will have to award at least 20 GW every year for the next four years to achieve the target. 'An existing gap and ongoing challenge within India's workforce is the lack of employees trained with the skills needed to construct and operate solar plants. This skill gap is increasingly recognised as a barrier to realising the country's renewable energy target,' Council for Energy Environment and Water (CEEW) and National Resource Defence Council (NRDC) said in a report.
Greening India's Workforce Report recommends, the government should encourage reporting of employment generation from the renewable energy companies, provide greater impetus to rooftop solar to create renewable energy jobs, support development of localised training centres led by the private sector to source construction jobs locally, since solar jobs are well distributed among states, develop training centres on the basis of state-specific targets and promote a strong domestic solar module manufacturing industry.
Experts further recommend some of the immediate steps required to enable growth within the sector- be efficient implementation of renewable energy certificates, use of carbon trading as a source of revenue, immediate implementation of grid-powered energy in regions of Rajasthan and Gujarat, development of off-grid usage in various applications such as cellular towers, and encouragement of localised mini grids in areas that lack connectivity.
It can be concluded that employment is linked to the growth of the sector, the return on investments for investors, and the financial health of various stakeholders. Since most DISCOMs are financially weaker, the payments are being delayed a lot and that is causing major concerns for the investors.
'Employment is, of course, linked to the growth of the sector and the power ministry needs to see how to ensure investors get the return on their investment and keep them interested to invest in utility scale plants. There have also been cases wherein state DISCOMs have tried to renegotiate contracts after being executed, which is not good as this also reduces investor's confidence and in turn impacts capacity addition,' Kunal Chandra, Managing Director, Proinso, the Indian arm of the UK-based solar energy solutions provider said.
The government has a further target beyond the 100 GW by 2022, but to achieve the same there are too many factors that need to come into place. Solar power is a reliable and predicate source of power and has been tried and tested through its life cycle. 'We will continue to see growth in the solar sector and there is already a road map in place for the solar sector in India up to 2030,' Chandra said.
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