Blessed with one of the best quality and quantity of sun, India offers a huge potential to develop solar photovoltaic (PV) power both for domestic consumption and export. With several new companies from India and abroad starting their solar operations in India, and existing companies committing to expanding their capacity, solar PV power is bang in the middle of a take-off in India right now. The government too has been very supportive to boost the growth of solar industry. In January last year, the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) and Ministry of Power launched the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM) with an aim to set up an enabling environment for solar energy penetration in the country. The ambitious project aims to establish India as a global leader in solar energy, not just in terms of solar power generation but also in solar panels manufacturing and further development of this technology.
The JNNSM targets 22 GW of installed solar generation capacity by 2022, 100 GW by 2030 and 200 GW by 2050. It aims to achieve grid parity by 2022 and parity with thermal-based generation by 2030. It also aims to install 4-5 GW of solar manufacturing capacity in India by 2017. In the near term, the solar industry is looking to reach the total installed base of about 1 GW. Over the next two to three years, it may achieve 1-1.5 GW of annual installations year-on-year. Providing further impetus to the solar industry, states like Gujarat and Rajasthan have announced their own solar policies.
Here’s why you should think about making a career in this exciting field.
According to a recent KPMG report, solar power can meet 5-7 per cent of India’s total power requirements by 2021-22, up from a negligible portion today. “Solar power can help our country move closer to the targeted 20-25 per cent reduction in carbon emission intensity of the total GDP by 2020, by contributing as much as one-tenth of this target, besides playing an increasingly important role in securing India’s energy future,” says Arvind Mahajan, head of energy and natural resources, KPMG.
Based on KPMG estimates, an average of 43,000 new jobs would be created annually in the period 201722 from the rooftop segment itself. Furthermore, around 42,000 jobs can potentially be created annually in the period 2017-22 from utility-scale solar power installations. The agriculture potential could create more than 38,000 jobs annually in the solar industry from 2017-18. KPMG further estimates that more than 600,000 jobs will be created during 2017-22 from rooftop, solar-powered agriculture pumpsets and utility-scale solar installations alone. Solar water heaters could also create more than 420,000 jobs in this period.
“Hence the solar industry would create close to a million jobs in the period 2017-22, carving a new industry segment like what IT has succeeded to create in the last decade in India,” quips K. Subramanya, CEO, Tata BP Solar.
Solar industry, at the global level in general and national level in particular, is in a nascent stage hovering around 20GW per annum. “It is expected to grow manifold in years to come mainly due to two reasons: increasing concern for climate change necessitating switching to renewable energy from fossil fuels and also concern about the depleting oil reserves,” adds Dr P. Jayakumar, CEO, Arbutus Consultants.
The solar industry offers exciting career opportunities in various disciplines of engineering like chemical engineering, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, electronics and communications and civil engineering.
“If you check five years back, job opportunities were not even 10 per cent of what they are today. I personally see 30 per cent growth in this industry in the years to come,” quips Hitesh C. Doshi, chairman, Waaree Group.
“With the launch of the NSM and the huge target which has been set by the government, different companies are trying to engage themselves through either installation of power plants or design and manufacture of solar components, various devices and individual sub-systems required for the power plant. As far as the knowledge base is concerned, one is the engineering aspect of the power plant design and another is the physics of how this power gets generated. So the job opportunities exist in each of these sectors,” opines P.K.Ghosh, management consultant, Agni Power & Electronics.
Course date: August 8-11, 2011
Course venue: Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University, Raisan Village, Gandhinagar, Gujarat
Key takeaways: The cer tification workshop will provide in-depth knowledge of fundamental PV principles, selection of components and designing of various types of PV systems, PV design and analysis software, hands-on building of PV systems, visit and study of 1 megawatt PV power plant.
“As themegawatt-level solar power plants become more prominent. The employment opportunities of civil, mechanical and electrical engineering would go up considerably. Typically, a one megawatt plant during construction would need a minimum of five engineers in addition to technicians. The government itself has a target through the JNNSM of 1000 MW by 2013 and 20,000 MW by 2022. This offers numerous employment opportunities for engineers. To catch up with this, the manufacturing sector also would need engineers from chemical and mechanical disciplines,” explains Jayakumar.
Subramanya adds, “The job outlook seems extremely positive and enthusing. In fact, the solar industry currently suffers from severe shortage of skills at all levels for rapid growth and particularly in conceptualisation of opportunities, application engineering, marketing, financing, project management, O&M, etc.”
“The two main prospects that I see in this industry are one on the manufacturing side and the other on the power projects side. There are auxiliary areas also such as electronics where things like inverters come into play. Now talking about the manufacturing side, we already do a lot of manufacturing of cells and modules in India but most of the raw materials and equipments are all imported. For example, for the module, most of the equipment and the machinery, solar cells (although solar cell manufacturing is now taking off in India) and backsheet polymers all come from outside. Similarly, when you talk about solar cell manufacturing, gases, metal pastes and silicon wafers are imported; so there is a lot of scope for starting manufacturing of these raw materials in India. And to cater to this, you would need engineers from various disciplines including electrical, electronics, physics, material science, mechanical and civil engineering,” elaborates Dr Omkar Jani, principal research scientist, solar research wing at the Gujarat Energy Research and Management Institute—Research, Innovation and Incubation Centre (GERMI-RIIC).
He continues, “Now coming to the power projects side, you require engineers on the site for project execution— including engineers who can design the power plant at a higher level, as well as civil, structural, mechanical and electrical engineers for the project execution. There are also typical needs for businesses that can fabricate and supply mechanical structures like the Module Mounting Structures in a cost-effective way using cost-effective ‘Indian-style’ innovations. Thus, the industry opens up prospects at various levels as well. It’s just like any other power industry. You need the same kind of people but then they have to be tuned for solar.”
The manufacturing sector would need personnel with ITI, diploma and engineering qualifications. The implementation of projects would need diploma holders and engineers in addition to unskilled labour.
“A typical rule of thumb used in the US is that you need 40 people per installed megawatt of solar power, and these include people right from manufacturing to installation to maintenance. But if you look at the Indian scenario, this number needs to be scaled up to 100 because we typically employ more manpower for manufacturing and execution of projects. So now you can extrapolate how many megawatts is India looking to install. As per the objectives of the JNNSM, the government plans to increase its deployment to 20,000 MW by 2022, which clearly points you to the kind of growth we are looking at in solar industry,” explains Dr Jani.
What role to choose?
In solar industry, you can find a place in any of the following broad categories: design engineers, who take care of the design and engineering of systems; production engineers, who oversee production of cells (chemical process), modules (mechanical), etc; quality control, where you will be responsible for quality control and assurance; and project engineers, who look after the installation, commissioning and management of systems at a project’s site.
There are wide possibilities, and as the market and technology develops, in addition to the usual requirements in R&D, project development, design and engineering, manufacturing, quality assurance, marketing, installation and commissioning, operation and maintenance, training, teaching, value engineering, procurement, recruitment and hiring, there will be specialists required in the following areas: techno-economic feasibility, sourcing and vendor development, risk management, insurance, financial structuring, regulatory issues, and energy service companies (ESCOs).
What’s on offer?
Solar is an evolving and specialist’s field. Candidates with good understanding of energy, environment and economics fit the best. Generally, salaries are based on individual skillsets and qualifications. Jayakumar says, “Typically, the average salary for a fresh graduate engineer in this field can range anywhere from Rs 100,000 to 150,000 per annum. Engineers with about three-five years related experience can expect anything between Rs 400,000 and Rs 500,000 per annum.”
“The subject calls for self-confidence, understanding growth imperatives of the Indian economy, energy security issues, global technology development, IPR issues, etc. All these aspects make solar a very exciting field to work in. Salary and perks are as exciting as any other industry,” Subramanya informs.
“In solar industry, you can look forward to a career which is definitely rewarding. It’s an expensive proposition, which means, for a high-value project, a company will make sure that it gets good people and for that, it will have to reward them well. Also, most of the companies in this field are MNCs, and if Indian companies want to do well, they need to keep up with the high scales offered by the multinational firms. And the best part is, it’s going to be like that for the next couple of years because solar has no way to go but only up from here,” adds Dr Jani.
Tips from the experts
The industry can be divided into three major categories, namely manufacturing, system integration and project implementation. The leading firms in these sectors are Tata BP Solar, Lanco Solar, Moser Baer Solar, Indosolar, Reliance Solar and Aditya Birla Solar, amongst others.
Your next question is likely to be “How to get an edge over your competitors?” Overall, solar jobs are growing quickly and employers are having a hard time finding qualified workers. “We don’t have many qualified people in solar. People who come with some power project experience, know-how to handle projects and build systems can be trained in solar,” Dr Jani adds.
Jayakumar opines, “Specialisation in energy management in exceptional cases is sought for. However, opportunities exist for regular electrical, mechanical and civil engineers.”
“Since the number of jobs will exponentially increase in this industry in the coming years, PV power plant technology needs to be taught as a main subject in engineering colleges to address the huge shortage of manpower in the solar industry. At Agni Power, we offer on-the-job training. During the course of production and installation, people acquire the skillset and also gradually learn to independently handle the systems,” adds Ghosh.
To sum it up, good educational background with an urge to learn and innovate makes a candidate prospective. In addition, recruiters while hiring usually look for a candidate who has:
1. Willingness to travel to rural areas and understand issues for inclusive growth
2. Knowledge and exposure in advanced areas like semiconductor physics, system integration, installation and commissioning, troubleshooting, after-sales service, customer care, techno-commercial analysis of mega projects, and erection, commissioning and grid integration of large project
3. Planning and co-ordination skills in project management
4. Design skills
5. Communication and story writing skills
Well, solar by itself is not at all complicated. It is a very simple technology, which makes it even more attractive. Once you understand what solar is, it becomes very easy to adapt. As Dr Jani puts it, “The point is not to train people on solar but to adapt them to solar.”
The author is from EFY Bureau, New Delhi