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Can Renewable Energy Jobs Help Reduce Poverty in India?

India launched a massive renewable energy push in 2014 — a move that could bring electricity and jobs to poor, rural communities across the country. The government set ambitious targets to generate 160 gigawatts of wind and solar power by 2022, and a study from the Council on Energy, Environment and Water and the Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that, to achieve these goals, India must create 330,000 new jobs over the next five years.

Can Renewable Energy Jobs Help Reduce Poverty in India? finds that many of these jobs will provide steady incomes, healthcare benefits and skill-building opportunities for unskilled and semi-skilled workers. For India’s rural poor, especially women, clean energy jobs offer an alternative to subsistence farming. The report provides recommendations that government officials, private sector leaders and civil society can take to maximize poverty reduction impacts.

Executive Summary

In addition to improving energy security, enhancing energy access, and mitigating climate change, renewable energy may be able to help reduce poverty, by creating good jobs that poor people can perform. Meeting India’s ambitious target of generating 160 gigawatts (GW) of wind and solar power by 2022 may require 330,000 jobs in construction, project commissioning and design, business development, and operations and maintenance (O&M). Some of these jobs may have a direct impact on poverty reduction.

This report looks at opportunities for reducing poverty by creating good-quality employment along the renewable energy supply chain. By assessing the ecosystem for renewable energy in India, evaluating the extent to which it supports the generation of good jobs in poor and rural areas, and identifying ways to accelerate the creation of jobs that sustainably reduce poverty, it offers a first-pass assessment of how the renewable energy sector could be “tuned” to contribute more to poverty reduction as it meets India’s development needs.

The Research Problem

Some studies have looked at the impact of renewable energy on employment, but few have looked at the quality of jobs — and even less attention has been given to the types of skills and employment opportunities that can be created along the supply chain of renewable energy development. To fill this gap, this report examines opportunities for poverty reduction through employment generation along the renewable energy supply chain. Drawing lessons from programs and projects in India, it seeks to understand what is needed to develop programs, projects, and policies that lead to livelihood opportunities.

Key Findings

The findings reported here include (a) the majority of jobs in the sector are contractual and do not offer benefits or job stability; (b) permanent jobs in the sector have the potential to reduce poverty, but they need strengthening before they become good jobs; (c) most poor people face barriers to entry to training and the job market; (d) few programs include features that help reduce poverty, such as capacity building, development of ownership opportunities, and the inclusion of women; and (e) the absence of data makes it difficult to establish connections between jobs in renewable energy and poverty reduction.

Recommendations

The report presents a set of recommendations for “tuning” the renewable energy sector to provide poverty-reducing jobs for the poor. Its recommendations include the following:

  • Focus capacity building on empowerment of the poor, particularly training in O&M services.
  • Develop and introduce training programs for people with very little education and training, who do not qualify for current programs, preventing them from working in the sector.
  • Focus on localized training of women to enhance their inclusion in the renewable energy workforce.
  • Strengthen links between training institutes and renewable energy enterprises across the supply chain in order to ensure that (a) trained personnel are placed in relevant jobs during and after completion of the training program and (b) training programs meet the needs of the industry.
  • Embed poverty impact assessments in program design to understand how programs lead to poverty reduction and whether and how they reach their target audience.
  • Create a sense of ownership and contribution to the growth of renewable energy projects among the poor.
  • Collect data, including information about the types of jobs being offered (part time, full time, contractual); the levels of skills required (skilled, semi-skilled, and unskilled); who is being employed; and employees' socioeconomic status.
  • Conduct studies, supported by field surveys, to understand the impact renewable energy jobs have on poverty reduction and changes in livelihoods.

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