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Renew | June 2014

The jobs are here, where are the people?

The renewable energy sector is growing by leaps and bounds, but shortage of skilled manpower is threatening to become a major bottleneck, says Devarajan Mahadevan

The renewable sector is booming, and employment opportunities are on the rise. According to the latest figures available with the International Renewable Energy Agency (IREA), the number of people employed in the renewable energy sector grew 14 per cent to 6.5 million in 2013.

However, as IREA admits, skill shortages in the renewable energy space act as a major barrier to deployment of new technology and the subsequent growth of the sector (see box 1). To cite an example, the European wind energy sector faces an annual shortfall of 7,000 qualified personnel, and this figure is likely to double in the coming years. A global survey by Renewable Energy Alliances found that an astonishing 78 per cent of companies surveyed found it ´difficult´ or ´very difficult´ to find suitably trained staff. According to Dr.S.Gomathinayagam, Executive Director, Centre for Wind Energy Technology (CWET), an autonomous R&D institution under the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, ´The specific knowledgeable skilled manpower base (for the renewable energy industry) is small, and the smarter of of them are often attracted by multinational industries. Most renewable energy areas are highly inter-disciplinary (involving multiple engineering and science and technology areas), just like the industry in these sectors, CWET as a Government of India´s ministry´s autonomous institution, is also able to hire temporary project assistants of specific discipline as per the need and is able to run the operations with hard on-the-job orientation and training.´ But Gomathinayagam admits that staffing and filling up regular positions remains a problem. ´However, CWET´s attempts to get regular posts created with the confidence of managing the financial outlay with its internal revenue generations over the last five years has been in vain with consorted efforts even by the ministry,´ adds Gomathinayagam.

Indian players in the renewable energy space recognise the challenges involved in getting the required manpower, due to the rapid expansion that´s taken place in the sector. Says Ramesh Kymal, Managing Director, Gamesa Wind Turbines, ´Based on research published by MNRE in 2010, it is estimated that by 2030, total employment in the wind sector in India could be around 20 lakh through both direct and indirect employment. Industry recognizes this challenge and is working towards addressing this issue.´

Since skilled manpower is not available on tap, domestic companies are adopting ingenious ways to ensure that they don´t lose the competitive edge. HR Gupta, Managing Director, Indosolar Limited says, ´The renewable energy industrial sector is an emerging one, specifically the solar PV (SPV) sector. The value chain of the SPV industry consists of silicon, silicon wafers, silicon solar cells, solar cell panels (modules) and solar PV systems. Indian SPV industries are operating only at silicon solar cell, modules and SPV system nodes of the value chain. The highest skill sets of semiconductor technology, semiconductor device physics and semiconductor manufacturing in addition to clean room technology, chemical and gas technologies etc. are needed for solar cells manufacturing where our company is involved. Obviously we could not get trained manpower in these areas. We, therefore, hired only a few key technical personnel and trained the rest of the manpower through a very strong structured training program run by our technical collaborators from Germany and our key technical personnel.´ Gomathinayagam echoes his views, saying that ´I would admit the motivated talent pool for this sector is quite scarce in India.´

Various other companies are facing the same problem: the lack of a pool of skilled manpower in the country to staff the crucial positions in the industry. The universal response seems to be to fall back on in-house training. Ramesh Vyas, Director-Solar, International Marketing Corporation admits: ´Qualified and knowledgeable manpower is extremely limited. Most of the professionals have gained experience in either the traditional power sector or are from module manufacturing background. We impart in-house training and help the new person acquire solar related knowledge from our experts in the field.´ Vyas feels that this situation could have been avoided if some thought had been given to the looming manpower crunch at the time when various renewable energy policy moves were announced by the government. ´In 2010 when the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission was announced, there were emerging opportunities in design, engineering, installation, commissioning and maintenance segments of solar power. Unfortunately even after five years, the situation remains unchanged. It is no different in other renewable segments,´ says Vyas.

A few solutions
Observers have opined that a three-way collaboration between industry, institutions and the government is essential to develop trained manpower for the renewable sector. Gomathinayagam agrees, ´Industry needs business orientation and time-bound deliverables. Institutions have the required knowledge and research skills to train the needy. The government has the power to forge the marriage of the two disconnected ends as of now, to have the synergy of best industry-institution-Government interactions to generate a breed of excellent manpower.´ His organisation has worked with various stakeholders in the past. ´CWET has run two such programmes for the wind sector with industry and educational institutions. Owing to recession at the moment the funding from industry could not be sustained in the third year. Hiring by industry has also significantly reduced in the recent years,´ adds Gomathinayagam. Vyas feels that the industry should wake up to these needs, and should not wait for policy formulation. ´Rather than looking up to government alone, a lot needs to be done by other stakeholders too. Gujarat and Rajasthan have initiated (this process) by establishing institutions or offering certain courses aimed at the renewable sector. Solar is largely decentralised and is spread out. Maintenance and operations employment opportunities can be met through suitably designed programs at the ITI level. Government needs to factor this in for electricians and technicians by including certain modified courses for ITI and diploma students,´ he says.

Obviously, much more can be done. Says Gupta, ´MNRE has set up a high end research centre at IIT Bombay to carry out research and train manpower in the SPV area, other than this, no other initiative of the Government is known to us. Of course, a few private institutions have started some master degree level programmes, but obviously these efforts are not enough to provide enough required manpower specifically at the technician-worker levels, if the industry has to grow from its present level.´ Obviously, this means that growth would be curtailed if efforts are not stepped up on this front. ´However, care has to be taken that until present SPV industries are properly supported by Government policy interventions, growth will be halted and then generation of skilled manpower in the SPV area would be futile,´ adds Gupta.

Gomathinayagam has some suggestions to improve the state of affairs. ´The Government should involve and invest consciously to speed up practice school type of institutional training to graduates from various disciplines to cater to this growing need apart form nurturing post-graduate programmes and PhD research programmes in these areas to promote this sector,´ he says. That´s because policy pronouncements should also keep a close watch on the realities on the ground. ´For solar micro-generation on rooftops and for the small wind energy sector, the present problem is installation and customer´s personalised knowledge to get the operation and maintenance of these systems with localised expertise. This is the need of the hour to train local rural people to manage the O&M, since most of these companies do not an elaborate country-wide network, nor do they have the requisite manpower to attend to issues,´ he adds. ´We strongly support very close cooperation and collaboration among academia, industry and Government to create skilled and specialised manpower in renewable energy areas. Government supported research institutes should be rather directed to work to solve real industrial problems. Equipment manufacturers should also be involved in development of new technologies from the very beginning so that new technologies can be activated swiftly," says Gupta. Kymal concurs, with a few more suggestions: ´It is absolutely essential that industry, institutions and government should make collaborative effort to develop trained manpower for this sector; some of the suggestions include Renewable Energy Job Fairs, scholarship programs, exchange programs with foreign universities, grants for research, etc.´

The bottom line
The next question that crops up is whether compensation packages offered to renewable energy professionals in India are adequate enough considering the high skill-sets required. Global demand for such professionals (with the lure of dollar-denominated packages) is very high, and the threat of brain drain is a constant one. Says Gomathinayagam, ´When there has been good business, most professionals, based on their skills have been certainly well compensated in India. (But) more so abroad, where multinationals target highly experienced manpower in India. Not only senior officials from C-WET but also project assistants and contract employees could get into industry easily when the wind industry went through a boom. Attrition is a perennial problem for C-WET.´ Gupta has a similar view. ´Compensation packages are generally as per the norm in other manufacturing industries. But these require to be rationalised on the lines of high-tech industries like Information Technology,´ he says.

Train, train, train...
In a dynamic sector like the renewable space, there are developments taking place on a regular basis. So how do these organisations ensure that employees are trained in the latest technologies on a regular basis? ´Our staff are encouraged to under go for higher studies to update their skills through academic qualifications. C-WET´s international interaction and collaboration with USA, Germany, Spain, Denmark, Sweden and the UK has been very useful to meet the need of updated knowhow and knowledge. C-WET´s inter-institutional R&D, national training courses, and international ITEC/MEA courses helps the technical advancement of our staff,´ says Gomathinayagam. Kymal of Gamesa Wind Turbines says, ´Gamesa has been proactively involved in providing extensive training activities for its employees in global technologies in all the areas of business.

We have regular in-house training programs both in India and Spain. We believe that the success of an organisation depends on how we build our core competencies in response to the dynamic nature of the industry both in India and globally.´

Vyas had these parting suggestions: ´With around a hundred manufacturers of solar modules, there is need to pay attention for joint efforts in building a strong pool of proficient manpower. As India will achieve the target of 20 GW by 2022, the demand for manpower will reach more than hundred thousand persons. Half of the requirement will be from solar qualified persons. Additional manpower requirement will come once backward integration, spurred by domestic content requirements, goes to cell & wafer. Micro-grid for small hamlets/clusters as well as mini-grid for rural sections uncovered by electric supply so far will open up big manpower requirement.´

As discussed earlier, the renewable energy space will continue to witness the rapid growth of technology and radical changes in the way these technologies are deployed. As the International Labour Organisation says in a recent report, ´Skills shortages arising from these changes are likely to be less severe in developed countries that already have a highly skilled population. Most developing countries are less well supplied with quality providers of training and education, making it more difficult for them to respond to emerging skills needs.´ Ergo, it´s high time the country formulates a dynamic manpower plan for the renewable space.

The Skills Gap
Skill shortages are creating bottlenecks for the expansion of renewable energy. According to a survey by the International Renewable Energy Alliance, employers in many countries identify several renewable energy occupations (see below) as ´difficult to fill.´

SECTOR : - Occupation
Wind energy: - Project developers; service technicians; data analysts; electrical, computer, mechanical and construction engineers Solar energy : - Photovoltaic and solar thermal system installers and maintainers; building inspectors.
Hydropower : - Electrical, and operations and maintenance engineers; technicians; tradespersons; sustainability specialists.
Geothermal : - Trainers; geothermal engineers
Bioenergy: - R&D and design engineers; service technician; trainers
Renewable Energy: How the manpower needs stack up

  • IRENA estimates that renewable energy jobs reached 6.5 million in 2013. In decreasing order, the largest employers were China, Brazil, the United States, India, Germany, Spain and Bangladesh.
  • Regional shifts from developed to emerging countries continued in wind and solar technologies, predominantly in the manufacturing and installation segments of the value chain.
  • Solar photovoltaic and wind power remain the most dynamic renewable energy technologies.
  • In 2013, the solar photovoltaic sector accounted for 2.3 million jobs, largely concentrated in China. The trends show an increase in Chinese installation jobs, while manufacturing jobs remain stable as growing demand is absorbing the oversupply of photovoltaic panels.
  • Liquid biofuels, modern biomass and biogas are large employers (1.4 million, 0.8 million and 0.3 million) and jobs are mainly concentrated in feedstock production.
  • Wind employment remains relatively stable at 0.8 million jobs. Policy changes in several countries have reduced installation jobs, while those in operations and maintenance have experienced some growth.
  • Solar heating employed 0.5 million people, around 70 per cent were in China (data availability for solar heating, small hydro and geothermal is low, hence there is a potential for underestimation of jobs.
  • The policy context is vital steadiness and predictablity are essential to ensure sustained growth in renewable energy employment.
  • Education and training are critical enablers for employment in this relatively new and highly dynamic sector. Skill shortages are already creating bottlenecks for deployment in some countries.
  • (Source: International Renewable Energy Agency)
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