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How decentralised renewables are creating jobs

On Monday, Power for All released its first annual jobs census measuring employment from decentralised renewables for rural electrification in Africa and Asia, ‘Powering Jobs Census 2019: the Energy Access Workforce’.

Supported by Schneider Electric Foundation and The Rockefeller Foundation and timed to the United Nations review this year of Sustainable Development Goal 8 (SDG 8, or Decent Work), the census provides the most comprehensive and granular data yet on energy access jobs created by decentralised renewable energy (DRE), which includes solar for home and business, green mini-grids and machinery for productive use such as irrigation pumps.

The census aims to spotlight the energy skills needed to achieve SDG 7 ─ access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.

It surveyed three countries ─ India, Kenya and Nigeria ─ in its first year, and will expand data collection to 25 countries by 2021.

Overall employment data suggests that women and youth are the hardest impacted by the dearth of employment opportunities, particularly those in rural communities.

According to the International Labour Organization, young men and women between the ages of 15 to 24 comprise 25% of the working-age population in India and over 34% in sub-Saharan Africa, with youth representing 10-20% of those unemployed.

In fact, Africa’s youth population is projected to double by 2050 to 840 million, and the African Development Bank has warned 100 million youth could go without work by 2030.

Amid this challenge, however, the employment opportunity from delivering energy access to almost 1 billion people is emerging as a significant opportunity.

“Access to electricity means access to jobs,” said Dr Rebekah Shirley, Power for All’s Chief Research Officer and census lead researcher.

The Powering Jobs census offers strong evidence of the important link between energy access and employment in countries where rural joblessness is at record highs. Policy-makers, donors and the private sector have an opportunity to increase support for decentralised renewables and build a diverse, inclusive, and equitable workforce for the energy infrastructure of the future,” Shirley added.

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According to the census findings, decentralised renewables are:

  • A significant employer: although just beginning to scale, decentralised renewable energy companies already directly employ as many workers (i.e. 95,000 in India) as the traditional utility-scale power sector, and that number is expected to more than double on average by 2022-23.
  • A rural jobs multiplier: in addition to direct, formal employment, the sector also accounts for up to 5 times as many jobs created through the productive use of energy (such as crop irrigation) in rural communities being electrified for the first time. 
  • Employing a highly-skilled, middle-income workforce: DRE companies delivering electricity access create skilled jobs that largely fall within the middle-income range for their respective countries. Employee retention is also better than utility-scale power – more than 2/3 of jobs are full-time and long-term. 
  • Engaging too few women: low participation of women in DRE sector –  only about 25% of the workforce – is related to many broader socio-cultural challenges around gender stereotypes, recruitment biases, discriminatory business cultures, perceptions of gender roles and women’s representation in STEM education.
  • Employing a large number of youth: the sector creates decent work for youth (currently representing 40% of all DRE jobs), which can be an important response to the growing challenge of youth unemployment in emerging economies. 
  • Experiencing major skill gaps: there is a growing shortage of job-ready talent to finance, develop, install, operate and market the sector. Management skills, in particular, represent a critical gap for unlocking further sectoral growth.

Commented Gilles Vermot Desroches, Chief Sustainability Officer, Schneider Electric, and General Delegate of the Schneider Electric Foundation: “Access to energy is a basic human right, that’s why we are committed to train 1 million underprivileged people in energy management by 2025.

“However, we know that we need to create a robust ecosystem that allows these communities – specifically youth and women – to find job opportunities. By empowering local populations to manage and maintain new energy technologies, economic activity can begin to thrive.”

Desroches stressed that a huge job creation opportunity exists provided that governments support the ability of local people to build skills and capacity.

“Energy access is key to building a modern, more equitable economy,” said Suman Sureshbabu, Associate Director of The Rockefeller Foundation’s power initiative.

Sureshbabu continued: “As the Powering Jobs census shows, growth of the decentralised renewable energy sector not only provides new, high-skilled jobs in countries with growing labour forces but improves equity by increasing economic opportunities for rural communities.

“When people can access affordable, reliable electricity that can be employed for productive purposes, they have the means to move up the income ladder, creating a virtuous cycle. With greater economic opportunities, rural communities can better afford electricity.”

Babalwa Bungane
Babalwa Bungane is the content producer for ESI Africa - Clarion Events Africa. Babalwa has been writing for the publication for over five years. She also contributes to sister publications; Smart Energy International and Power Engineering International. Babalwa is a social media enthusiast.