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Survey Highlights Job Creation, Fair Pay Potential of Developing World Decentralized Renewable Energy

image credit: *Courtesy Power for All

Job creation and fair pay is a pressing issue in countries the world over, especially across developing and lesser-developed nations with fast growing populations and lots of unemployed young people. The first of its kind, a jobs census released today by developing-world, sustainable energy advocacy Power for All highlights the jobs being created by energy access initiatives that entail rolling out decentralized renewable energy systems in Africa and parts of Asia, and the potential for many more to come.

Some 100 million youth face unemployment by 2030 in Africa alone given the continuation of current trends, according to the survey, which was timed to coincide with World Youth Skills Day and United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7, sustainable energy access for all, and SDG 8, providing decent work. Surveys were carried out in Kenya, India and Nigeria for this first edition. Power for All intends to expand that to 25 countries by 2021.

"Decentralized renewables create as many jobs as central grid-based energy infrastructure in Africa, Asia," the survey report states. Furthermore, a potential 5-times job-creation multiplier exists that can provide skilled, middle-income employment for women and youth, two groups within which unemployment and underemployment are particularly high, more specifically in rural areas.

Potential to create 4.5 million good jobs

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) estimates that off-grid renewables for energy access can create at least 4.5 million direct jobs by 2030, Power for All points out. Multinational off-grid solar energy industry association GOGLA ​​​expects that off-grid solar alone, excluding minigrids, could create as many as 1.3 million jobs by 2022. "Yet today, sub-Saharan Africa has about 600 million people living without electricity and (excluding South Africa) only 227,000 people employed by the entire renewable energy sector ─ a tiny sliver, just 2%, of the global total of 11 million," the report authors state.

Entitled Powering Jobs Census 2019: The Energy Access Workforce, Power for All's survey provides the most comprehensive and granular data yet regarding energy-access job creation via DREs. That encompasses solar energy systems for homes and businesses, "green" minigrids and powering machinery for productive use, such as agricultural irrigation pumps, according to the report, which was supported by the Schneider Electric Foundation and The Rockefeller Foundation.

Women and young people make up more than 34% of working-age individuals in Sub-Saharan Africa and 25% across India, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO), Power for All highlights. Youth represent 10-20% of those unemployed.

Furthermore, it's forecast that the youth population in Africa will double to 840 million by 2050. A projected 100 million could find themselves without jobs by 2030, according to the African Development Bank (AfDB). Rolling out DREs to provide energy access holds the potential to address the issue by creating millions of direct and indirect jobs, according to the report.

Power for All cited three key report findings:

  • Distributed energy access solutions are already directly employing as many workers as the traditional utility power sector and the number of jobs are expected to more than double by 2022-23, on average;

  • Beyond creating energy industry jobs, communities gaining access to clean, distributed electricity for the first time benefit hugely, with 5 times more non-energy jobs (in agriculture, retail, etc) being created than direct energy industry jobs;

  • Companies delivering energy access provide jobs that are highly skilled and middle-income. More than two-thirds of the jobs are also long term and full time.

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 decentralized renewables and build a diverse, inclusive, and equitable workforce for the energy infrastructure of the future.”

Additionally, Power for All found that even though it's just beginning to scale, rolling out DREs for energy access already employees lots of people across the three countries surveyed, directly employing as many workers (i.e. 95,000 in India) as the traditional utility-scale power sector, 95,000 in India for example. Power for All expects that number to more than double on average by 2022-23.

There's a is a rural jobs multiplier effect that goes along with using DREs to expand energy access, the report authors say. "In addition to direct, formal employment, the sector also accounts for up to five times as many jobs created through the productive use of energy, such as crop irrigation, in rural communities being electrified for the first time. In addition, employee retention is also better than utility-scale power -- more than 2/3 of jobs are full-time and long-term.

Power for All also points out some weak points that could add substantially to the benefits gained:

  • 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.

“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," commented Schneider Electric Chief Sustainability Officer Gilles Vermot Desroches, who also serves as General Delegate of the Schneider Electric Foundation. "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. 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,” added Suman Sureshbabu, associate director of The Rockefeller Foundation’s power initiative. “As the Powering Jobs census shows, growth of the decentralized renewable energy sector not only provides new, high-skilled jobs in countries with growing labor 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.”

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