Solar PV Technicians: Facilitators of Solar Panels In India

Highlights :

  • Ministry of New and Renewable Energy has trained around 51,000 solar PV technicians under its Suryamitra Skill Development Programme

We talk a lot about how India is treading towards its aim of replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy, and how solar panels, and the clean energy they generate, have contributed significantly to this transition. But at a micro level, there must be an entity facilitating consumers’ adaptation to solar power. Who is this entity directly responsible for the growth of solar energy at the micro level? The job is done by solar PV technicians.

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Trained solar PV technicians form a key link between India’s growing number of rooftop solar providers and citizens switching to green energy at home. There is a growing demand for maintenance work from rooftop solar panel owners to keep their standalone systems functioning efficiently. These works are not taken by solar rooftop providers but involve freelancing technicians.

With the emergence of solar culture in the country, various digital platforms – like SunEdison’s app, AHA Solar Rooftop Helper, SunPro+, and the Surya Mitra app – also emerged. These platforms help to link up solar maintenance experts in search of work with customers who need cleaning and repair services. These services silently develop a positive atmosphere for the new technology to thrive and are without a doubt essential to help promote and meet the targets of India’s renewable energy push.

For a community-wide solar adaptation, these solar technicians’ role is indispensable. Let us understand this from the story of Modhera, a village in the Mehsana district of Gujarat India’s first net-zero energy community.

Modhera – India’s First Net-zero Energy Village

As a result of Project Suryagram (Sun Village), Gujarat’s Modhera has emerged as India’s first 24X7 solar-powered village. The village forms a ‘net-zero’ energy community, with citizens producing their electricity from 1,300 rooftop systems and meeting 100 per cent of their energy requirements using on-site solar power.

This is an incredible step and seems like a milestone towards India’s renewable shift taking a bottom-up approach. However, only setting up this arrangement is not enough and sustaining it will be crucial in deciding the complete shift to solar power. For the success of this project and many more similar projects to come, the availability of maintenance and repair services is indispensable – just like mobile repair shops, plumbers, and electricians.

Programmes Producing Workforce

Ministry of New and Renewable Energy has facilitated the training of around 51,000 participants (as of June 2022) as solar PV technicians for the installation, operation and maintenance of solar power projects since FY 2015-16 under its Suryamitra Skill Development Programme. A little over half of them (about 27,000) gained employment.

The program’s primary objective has been to train high-school leavers and vocational diploma holders as field technicians, to operate and manage solar energy projects that are key to meeting India’s goal of achieving 500 gigawatts of renewable energy capacity by 2030.

Another such step was taken by a private renewable energy company ReNew Power in partnership with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Self-Employed Women’s Association of India (SEWA). The trio launched ‘Project Surya’, which aims to train low-income women salt pan workers to work as solar technicians.

Women salt pan workers work in the physically challenging and extreme temperatures of the remote Rann of Kutch marshes. These women will be trained as solar panel and solar pump technicians at Dhokavada village in the Patan district of Gujarat under this programme. Apart from better working conditions, the income of these women may also rise substantially to up to INR 18,000 per month.

State of Trained Solar PV Technicians in India

Thanks to the government and private efforts, it’s not that there isn’t a need for the workforce. Residents find it hard to get their solar energy systems fixed when they have a problem. But, there is a fly-by-night operator culture. These operators install a rooftop system and then disappear.

Further, the success of getting jobs also depends on the location of large solar projects, tie-ups between some training centres and private firms, and willingness to move to remote areas for work, with the states of West Bengal, Telangana and Madhya Pradesh seeing the highest levels of job placement.

Pandemic Made Things Worse

The pandemic has put a brake on the economy worldwide. The state of growth of new renewable projects in India is the same. Thus, hiring got impacted in the sector, leaving a large portion of the skilled workforce, including Solar PV technicians, unemployed. As per a report by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water, the COVID-19 pandemic led to 48% fewer jobs created in 2021 compared to 2019.

The pandemic-induced slowdown and contraction can still be felt. Trained solar technicians find themselves in a job market that has not picked up since the pandemic. To make matter worse for trained solar technicians, many private firms prefer to hire local electricians at lower wages and train them on the job.

The average salary for Suryamitra-certified technicians is 15,000-18,000 Indian rupees a month, but placement agencies point out that private companies often find cheaper, unskilled labour to do the same job.

Training Centers Cutting Down

The various issues in recent times prompted training centres to cut down the training programmes for the technicians. As of this year, many training centres are yet to even begin the three-month program. Even the ones that were funded by the government, and provided free training, are seeing budget cuts.

The job of a solar PV technician is important for solar growth. A utility-scale solar plant requires an average of 30 visits a year by trained staff for cleaning, maintenance and repairs. Whereas, annual maintenance is not even discussed in rooftop solar, resulting in few jobs and dissatisfied customers.

All these issues are making it difficult for solar PV technicians to make a living out of this work. There is an absence of a proper system for the employability of the workforce even as the country holds high ambitions for solar power. Solar technicians have the potential to become indispensable. There is a need to manage the workforce to make a swift change to clean solar energy.

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Junaid Shah

Junaid holds a Master of Engineering degree in Construction & Management. Being a civil engineering postgraduate and using his technical prowess, he has channeled his passion for writing in the environmental niche.

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