Make in India and renewable energy

The renewable energy seminar held during the Make in India Week on 15 February was one of the best attended sessions. It served as a platform to discuss and reiterate several initiatives, both domestic and international, that the government is spearheading. These range from the flagship Make in India programme to the establishment of the International Solar Alliance (ISA). However, it is the synergies between these programmes that offer the greatest opportunity, but also need the most attention.

India’s mammoth renewable energy target of installing 175 gigawatts (GW) capacity by 2022 was officially announced in the 2015 budget speech. As we approach the next budget announcement, India’s total installed renewable energy capacity stands at close to 28GW, nearly 22% of the colossal target. As the country prepares to scale up its renewable energy capacity, it is important to recognize the need for a skilled workforce.

Given the population growth rate, India needs to create 10 million new jobs every year. Analysis carried out by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) estimates that more than 1 million full-time equivalent jobs would be created by the solar deployment industry alone, between now and 2022. These would include over 210,000 skilled plant design and site engineering jobs, 18,000 highly skilled jobs in business development and over 80,000 annual jobs for performance data monitoring.

Similarly, the wind sector would create 183,500 jobs by 2022, as wind capacity increases to 60GW. While the job creation potential of the renewable energy sector is significant, it also brings with it the urgent, and currently unmet need for skilling.

Analysis based on survey responses from 40 solar companies in India highlights the current unavailability of appropriately skilled manpower for construction and commissioning of solar units as a significant challenge to the solar industry. Similarly, wind sector respondents suggested that the current skilling programmes needed to be made more relevant and accessible, such that companies are assured of the high quality of training. This is where the ambitious renewable energy target of the country interlinks with the Skill India initiative, which aims to skill 400 million people by 2022. It will be crucial to develop standardized training programmes that can be implemented through institutes around the country, with training institutes being set up in areas with the most renewable energy potential and upcoming capacity.

As India hosted the first Make in India Week, focusing on increasing domestic manufacturing in India, the minister for power, coal, and new and renewable energy, Piyush Goyal, spoke of the need to have end-to-end solar manufacturing in the country. Recognizing the importance of strengthening domestic manufacturing in order to realize the national renewable energy targets, he promised that solar manufacturing in India was likely to get significantly cheaper in the next 18 months. The current annual solar manufacturing capacity in India stands at a meagre 4GW, cells and modules combined, whereas the annual wind manufacturing capacity stood close to 10GW. Strengthening domestic manufacturing of solar panels and wind turbines, at competitive prices, would further the objectives of the Make in India initiative, while also providing an impetus to the solar and wind industry.

CEEW–NRDC analysis, in the recently released report Filling the Skill Gap in India’s Clean Energy Market, suggests that skilling for research and product development would be essential for scaling up the manufacture of photovoltaic (PV) panels and wind turbines. Similarly, as several new entrepreneurs enter the market, both to manufacture and deploy renewable energy capacity, it will become interesting to view the synergies between the Start-up India initiative and the country’s renewable energy targets.

Cooperation could extend beyond just national missions. India’s recent pioneering effort to initiate the formation of ISA brings together 121 solar-rich countries on a common platform for cooperation to significantly augment the development, deployment and generation of solar technologies and power. While ISA will be an international organization, it has several shared focus areas with current domestic initiatives. One of the key pillars of the ISA work-plan is to facilitate capacity building for promotion and absorption of solar technologies and R&D among member countries. This resonates with the objectives of the Skill India initiative, as well as India’s domestic solar target. While the focus of ISA is going to be global, India’s domestic solar sector could benefit significantly from its recommendations and capacity building initiatives.

The time for transitioning to an energy future that has a significant component of renewable energy has come. The political support being extended to this sector is unprecedented. It is now that synergies that have been identified between the various ongoing initiatives offer the opportunity to support the scaling up of renewable energy, with access to high-quality and relevant training programmes, as well as support to the domestic solar and wind manufacturing market, both of which will play an important role in determining the pace of the renewable energy scale-up in India.

(The article was originally published by Livemint)