Renewed hope for women: The proportion of women in rooftop solar sector of India is higher than any other energy sector of the country.

Women account for an estimated 11% of the workforce in the rooftop solar sector in India, significantly less than the global average of women in the renewables sector, at 32%. However, it is higher than the percentage of women in other energy sectors in India, such as coal, oil and gas companies, and electricity utilities.

The renewable energy industry has, in the last few years, come to be recognised as an incredible alternative to negating carbon emissions, greenhouse gases and combating the woes of fossil fuels. Moreover, it has also proved to be a source of employment across the globe, especially in the solar and wind sector. Encouragingly, jobs for women in these industries has been in the news as well. Worldwide, there are enough instances to prove that the significance of women in the clean energy sector has been recognised—–and rightly so. Take for example a recent initiative that supports women in green energy in Egypt. Energy Live News reported that the move “aims to enhance employment and entrepreneurship opportunities for women in the industry”.

The Programme for Supporting Renewable Energy and Promoting Gender Equality in Egypt is part of a joint $7 million co-operation initiative funded by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the Green Climate Fund (GCF) —it intends to put women at the centre of Egypt’s transition to a greener economy and promote gender equality in renewable energy.

Additionally, it aims to identify and address key barriers hindering the development of the region’s renewable energy economy, enhance employment and entrepreneurship opportunities for women in the industry. Furthermore, in the United Kingdom, the new offshore wind sector deal aims to achieve at least 33% of women in the total offshore wind workforce by 2030.  “Currently only 16% of the offshore wind workforce are women, but under this new deal, the sector will aim to more than double the number of women entering the industry to at least 33% by 2030,
with the ambition of reaching 40%”, an official release stated. Meanwhile, in a professional network launched in Kathmandu on February 20, 2019, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) is partnering to promote more female practitioners in South Asia’s energy and the power sector.

The Women in Power Sector Professional Network in South Asia (WePOWER) aims to support the participation of women in energy projects and institutions, as well as promote more women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education. One of the key findings of Value For Women (V4W), a UK-based, global social enterprise that brings together researchers, experts and gender specialists to provide research and capacity-building, was the high performance of women in the sales departments of companies engaged in renewable energy—the performance is three times higher than men. Unlike companies dedicated to conventional energy sources, worldwide, women represent 39% of the workforce of green companies. Including women in the renewable energy sector is definitely advantageous, a study by International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), titled Renewable Energy: A gender perspective, reveals—-“As women become engaged in delivering energy solutions, they take on more active roles in their communities and consequently facilitate a gradual shift in the social and cultural norms that previously acted as barriers to their agency.” Indian scenario India, which has set itself an ambitious target, of achieving 175GW of power by 2022, is not lagging behind either, as far as employing women in the solar sector is concerned.

According to the IRENA report, SELCO Solar Light Pvt Ltd, India, trained female solar technicians as early as in the 2000s to accomplish its business goals, as technicians were needed to enter the homes of customers to repair solar lanterns and cookstoves. More recently, a study by International Energy Agency-Council on Energy, Environment and Water threw up interesting figures—-“The proportion of women working in the rooftop solar sector in India stands at 11%, higher than in other energy sectors such as coal, oil and gas companies, and electricity utilities where women make up less than 10% of the workforce,” it revealed.

Women account for an estimated 11% of the workforce in the rooftop solar sector in India, significantly less than the global average of women in the renewables sector, at 32%. However, it is higher than the percentage of women in other energy sectors in India, such as coal, oil and gas companies, and electricity utilities, it added. Interestingly, the share of female students studying engineering and technology in India, a highly appreciated academic background for the rooftop solar sector, is over 30%, one of the highest in the world. However, it is low compared to service sectors such as technology services and financials, where women represent 20% to 30% of the workforce. An Asian Development Bank series of Gender Equality Diagnostic studies on the energy industry in South Asian countries have found that “women’s skills and perspectives account for a small part of job and decision-making by energy sector agencies. Gender diversity in technical and senior managerial positions is also visibly lacking”, Modern Diplomacy reported.

In order to address the challenges, the researchers recommend two approaches to policymaking. Firstly, policymakers can enhance policies to scale up the rooftop solar market. Policies must address the issues underlying the slow deployment rate, such as the higher costs of procurement and installation of rooftop solar systems given their smaller size and distributed characteristics; and their higher financing costs compared to utility solar. Frameworks to evaluate the creditworthiness of smaller companies and consumers need to be established. Secondly, policymakers can design gender‑targeted policies that encourage and enable companies become more gender-inclusive. For example, encouraging investment in facilities that are suitable for women at project sites; setting guidelines for flexible working arrangements; having the public social security system contribute to cover the personnel costs during an employee’s parental leave that is currently covered entirely by employers and introducing a campaign to increase women’s leadership.

Even though it will take a while before the number of women employed in the RE sector equal their male counterparts, the positive part is that a beginning has been made—-inclusive schemes which recognise the significance of women have been initiated and programmes now train women, altering the lives of not just them, but their families as well. In January this year, Skill Council and the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) released a new case study, “Worth their Salt: Building Skills and Improving Livelihoods of Women Salt Farmers in Gujarat through Clean Energy Solutions.” It highlights the training programs and improved livelihoods as part of NRDC-SEWA’s project working with women, salt farmers to transition from diesel pumps to more efficient solar pumps. “

Women are part of India’s clean energy transformation and climate change debate. The training programs on technical solar installation and operations are essential to empowering women to make a living through clean energy. The shift to clean energy resulted in real-world improvements from increased incomes, economic growth, and health and pollution benefits,” it said. As yet another year goes by commemorating Women’s Day, it is heartening to note that their role in clean energy has finally been recognised. Going by recent developments, in times to come, their numbers are sure to grow.  The share of female employees in India’s rooftop solar sector by position

Source: IEA-CEEW Survey

Sapna Gopal is an independent journalist and writes on clean energy