Solar can be the engine for youth employment across Africa
15 Mar 2022

Much has been made of the employment potential of the energy transition – particularly in the labor-intensive world of solar – but a glance at the vacancies section of the AFSIA website hints at just how transformative photovoltaics could be for youth unemployment across Africa.

Of the 97 solar industry vacancies listed on our website just four days ago, more than half – 50 of them – were for candidates with less than three years’ experience. That is remarkable.

While we eagerly await the results of the next off-grid clean energy jobs census currently being conducted by Power For All with the support of AFSIA among others, here at AFSIA we are busily preparing to launch a Solar Academy in a bid to equip candidates with vital industry skills and match them up with the firms who are recruiting at pace as the solar industry booms across the continent.

We want to steer potential solar industry recruits of all ages and backgrounds towards the e-learning courses that will give them the skills recruiters desperately want, as Africa’s solar companies take part in what Miguel Stilwell told Bloomberg in June was “a war over talent, globally.” The CEO of Portuguese energy company EDP Renovaveis SA was discussing the lack of trained workers to drive through the energy transition at the rate needed to achieve a net-zero global economy by mid century. With AFSIA tracking 7,000 African solar businesses, that shortage is felt as keenly here as in any other global market and we want to do our bit to realize the full benefits of the PV jobs dividend.

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) in October estimated the world would see 43 million clean energy jobs by mid century and said the number had leapt from 11.5 million in 2019 to 12 million in 2020, despite the effects of the Covid pandemic that was enveloping the globe.

Of those 12 million clean power jobs two years ago, IRENA estimated 4 million were in the solar industry. UN body the International Labour Industry – which jointly produced the Renewable Energy and Jobs: Annual Review 2021 with IRENA – estimated the 7 million jobs to be lost in the fossil fuel and nuclear power industries this decade would be far outweighed by a net gain of 25 million new renewables positions, and added, 5 million of those due to lose their jobs because of the energy transition would be able to pivot to new, clean energy roles.

By including solar jobs in sectors outside energy generation – although not even including electric vehicle-related roles – the Lappeenranta-Lahti University of Technology and the Austral University of Chile in August estimated there were 7 million direct jobs supported by the solar industry in 2020, with the number due to rise to 60 million by 2050.

How many of those positions will be in Africa, and filled by Africans? The Power For All census of off-grid renewables jobs in Asia and Africa last year might give us a reasonable idea.

The Power For All 2019 Job Census surveyed just three countries: Kenya, Nigeria, and India, but the San Francisco based Power For All campaign – which wants to provide universal access to electricity by 2025 – promised to expand its data collection to 25 nations last year.

The fast-evolving nature of the solar industry means those previous figures, in 2019, may already seem like ancient history but even that limited survey offered a clear view of the job creation potential of African off-grid solar, whether via the distribution and installation of single-home PV systems, clean mini-grids, or appliances with commercial benefits, such as solar-powered water pumps.

Already, in 2019, Power For All found the off-grid renewable sector in the three countries concerned employed as many people as conventional, grid-based power generation, with the decentralized clean energy workforce forecast to double by the 2022-23 fiscal year.

The census noted each direct clean energy position created in rural off-grid communities that had been provided with electricity for the first time, drove five times as many indirect jobs. In terms of job quality and satisfaction, the survey added clean power roles boasted better job retention rates than those observed in the traditional power industry.

A more recent observation of clean power’s “multiplier effect” came from IRENA and the African Development Bank in January, who jointly published the Renewable Energy Market Analysis: Africa and its Regions document. That study estimated an accelerated energy transition here could generate an extra 26 million new jobs across the entire continental economy by 2050 than would be seen under the current policy plans of African governments.

Crucially, from the Power For All census in 2019, it was found young workers made up 40% of the decentralized, off-grid, clean energy workforce in Africa and Asia.

On the other side of the coin, however, the census observed a disappointingly low proportion of women employed in the off-grid clean power sector, and noted a stark lack of trained workers, especially for management roles, prefiguring those remarks made by EDP’s Stilwell last year.

That experience in part mirrored remarks made by Testimony Gabe-Oji, Chief Technology Officer of Abuja-based solar installer Energy Spectrum, who told trade title pv magazine in October that Nigeria has a thriving solar workforce which could be put to work around the world. Gabe-Oji had noted, many of the solar engineers he surveyed said they lacked experience in 100MW-plus projects and in the use of solar design software.

That is where we hope to come in, by bridging such gaps via our Solar Academy and helping recruiting solar companies benefit from the wealth of African solar talent.

So with that in mind, let’s get to work!

If you wish to learn more about our upcoming Solar Academy program and how you can participate or support the initiative, please drop us a message at info@afsiasolar.com