Smaller, off-grid renewable energy systems outscore large solar or wind farms in rural India for building energy sufficiency. There’s one more reason: jobs.
In 2021, the decentralised renewable energy sector employed more than 80,000 workers, according to international think tank ‘Power For All’. And despite the Covid-19 pandemic, the sector’s employment numbers have remained resilient.
DRE jobs fell only a 2.5% during the pandemic. By comparison, the broader renewable energy industry witnessed a 48% decline. Small renewable systems also had a much higher level of formal employment at 77%. Similar data is not available for the renewable sector but the share of formal jobs in India, according to EPFO, stood at 41% in FY22.
Decentralised renewable solutions are localised systems where energy is produced close to the source of consumption. This could include small-scale solar setups to power homes, farms and health centres in rural areas that often face frequent power cuts.
According to Power For All, DRE offers a chance to create more jobs per megawatt of energy addition. And such systems can help lower-income states achieve some of their sustainable development goals by ensuring cheap access to power.
“It is a small sector which is already creating so many jobs,” Debanjana Choudhari, country director for Power For All, told BQ Prime. “If we can give it the right push and fix the skill gap, then this sector can boost rural employment.”
India’s push for renewable adoption so far has been focused on large grid-connected utility scale projects. According to the Climate Policy Initiative, the country requires ten times more annual investment in DRE by 2024 to meet its renewable goals.
The PM-KUSUM to PM-Saubhagya schemes are all aimed towards increasing DRE adoption and universal electricity access. But on-ground implementation and awareness remains lacking.
Choudhari said a nationwide awareness campaign is needed make people understand the benefits of adoption DRE. It includes helping farmers move away from using costly diesel generators to irrigate their fields or public health centres having electricity through the day to make sure medical equipment is functional and vaccines that need to be stored at a certain temperature do not go unused.
That, in turn could, boost rural employment and allow people to earn livelihoods without having to move to city.
“A lot of the times DRE companies have to send someone from the city to install or repair components,” she said. If those in rural areas are trained with the technical knowledge of how to manage and operate these systems, then there’s a huge opportunity there, she said.
The Ministry of Panchayati Raj, that governs local civic bodies, can push for collaboration between the rural citizens and companies to improve adoption while creating jobs, she said.