“The nation that leads in renewable energy will be the nation that leads the world.”  – James Cameron (Canadian environmentalist and filmmaker). In this article, the author showcases a wonderful social innovation pilot project ‘Million Souls’ of IIT, Bombay that aims to provide clean, reliable, affordable, and complete energy access in the rural areas of India.

Industrialisation has been the key driver since the Industrial Revolution started in the late 18th century gathering significant pace in the last 70 years. This wave led to wealth generation and brought economic prosperity to a significant population across the globe. New world orders developed, numerous new products started getting produced, more resources got consumed and a bigger segment of the population got employment. The world started becoming a better place to live or was it?

In our quest for rapid development, a tremendous amount of waste started getting generated. Over the years we have reached a point where the solid, liquid, and gaseous waste is ready to annihilate the very planet we call home. The call of the hour is to rapidly change our outlook.  

Coronavirus will go in the next few years but climate change will not unless public and economic actors act together to set up a roadmap for the necessary adaptation of skills to the demands of the green economy. A well-managed ecological transition can become a strong driver for job creation and social justice. The potential for social innovation and new jobs is huge in the shift to solar energy, green buildings, environmental services, clean transport, organic farming, and other forms of renewable energy. In the coming years, job losses are expected, in particular in the most polluting sectors, hence professional transitions and adaptation to new skills would become a necessity. A shortage of skills may represent a strong barrier to ecological progress, delaying technological and economic transformation. Public intervention is therefore needed to help labor markets and education and training systems adapt to the new and dynamic requirements of a green economy. 

A crucial focus and backbone for green jobs and skills is the involvement of stakeholders such as social partners, private firms, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), education and training institutions, based on the complimentary of top-down coordinated policy-making and bottom-up sectoral and local initiatives. As per the reports shared by many Government and Private organizations on Occupational Mapping and Skill Gap Analysis, India needs to create 10 million new jobs every year in the renewable energy sector, and the analysis also shows that as many as 1 million FTE (Full Time Equivalent) jobs could be created in Solar PV Sector to achieve the target of 100 GW of installed solar energy by 2022. Given the large employment generation potential of solar energy in India, a significant proportion of the Indian workforce would need to be trained with the necessary skills to support the market. 

Steps have been initiated to create qualification standards within the Indian workforce by the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (MSDE). These could prove effective in improving the quality of India’s employment markets in the green economy. The creation of the Skill Council for Green Jobs by MSDE has already started providing more concentrated support for the renewable energy labour force, through the empanelment of various credible Training Institutions across the country for imparting quality training. The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) has also been working to integrate renewable energy curricula into numerous formal and non-formal training institutions in India. MNRE has integrated renewable energy coursework into India’s numerous Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs), which could help broaden the accessibility of renewable energy education. MNRE by launching the ‘Suryamitra’ program has integrated various renewable energy institutions, which could help broaden the accessibility of renewable energy. MNRE partnered with the United States to create the Solar Energy Training Network (SETNET) of India to establish greater consistency and collaboration among India’s solar energy training programs. 

While government’s role in providing policy support and the right green ecosystem is crucial but the solution and capacity to mitigate climate change lies primarily in the hands of the public at large. We have a few success stories like the social innovation projects led by IIT Mumbai under the leadership of two professors Dr. Chetan Solanki & Dr. Jayendran Venkateswaran, who laid the foundation of “Solar Urja through Localization for Sustainability” (SoULS) initiative, a mission to create a ‘Solar Ecosystem by Local for Local’ (SELL) and serve the local customers by ensuring the provision of the local financial mechanism, local institutions, and local services, also establishing local manufacturing units for sustainable adoption of technology. SoULS encourages locals to undertake ownership, responsibility, and mobilization of technology to create a positive impact on the lives of the rural household. 

Million SoULS

The Million SoULS, a pilot program to test the ‘LAS model’ in the speedy diffusion of solar technology in the remote, rural areas was initiated by IIT Bombay with major funding provided by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) and other philanthropic partners like Sir Dorabji Tata Trust and corporates like Idea Cellular Pvt. Ltd. It has integrated IIT Mumbai’s technical expertise in solar lamp technology, operations, concurrent evaluation, and impact analysis.  The objective of this program was to provide clean light for study purposes to every child in the country in the fastest and most cost-effective manner.  Solar study lamps were assembled, distributed, used, and repaired by rural people. In order to achieve scale, the model was designed in such a way that it could be replicated in parallel in multiple blocks, across districts and states. For achieving speed, the assembly and distribution for any block were designed to be completed in 90 days. To target skill development, rural people were trained to assemble, distribute, and repair the lamps. This large-scale solar lamp programme addressed the issues of scale, speed, and skill. SoULS focused on the ‘localization of solar energy’ and bagged the ‘Global Grand Prize’ worth $100,000 and the certificate of ‘IEEE- Empowering a Billion Lives Competition 2019’.

Dungarpur Initiative:

Women and girl children in a household are most vulnerable to the hazards of inefficient fuels. Thus, their involvement can be of paramount importance to facilitate the transition to clean and reliable energy access. Under this purview, IIT Bombay initiated a solar intervention to involve women of Dungarpur (Rajasthan) in forming and operating one-of-its-kind module manufacturing plants to expedite complete energy access to the households that still have negligible or unreliable electricity. This manufacturing plant was named the Dungarpur Renewable Energy Technologies Pvt. Ltd. or DURGA Energy. DURGA Energy has evolved from the Dungarpur initiative, under SoULS to provide clean, reliable, affordable, and complete energy access in the rural areas of India. Here the self-help group (SHG) of women formed under the Rajasthan State Rural Livelihood Mission (Rajeevika) were trained to assemble, distribute, and repair and maintain the solar study lamps. This initiative focused on the development of solar enterprise, for which women self-help group (SHG) members were trained and mentored to become solar entrepreneurs. Dungarpur initiative had a dual objective of distributing solar study lamps to school-going children together with their mothers and empowering tribal women SHG members to operate solar enterprises to earn livelihoods thereby facilitating the process of adaptation of solar technology. Under the initiative, 136 women were trained in assembling the solar study lamps, benefitting 40,000 students, and further resulting in five women opening their own solar shops in the region. The initiative also won the Prime Minister’s award for excellence in the innovation category on April 21, 2017. 

Creating Future leaders through Student Solar Ambassadors’ Workshop & Gandhi Global Solar Yatra

SoULS Initiative was further advanced to conduct, one-day workshops for the school-going children, where they learned about clean energy (solar) technologies, got to test the technical components, and assemble their own solar study lamps. This helped the students’ scientific curiosity & hands-on learning of technology particularly in solar. The core objective of the program was to stimulate young minds towards clean technologies for the future, by making them Student Solar Ambassadors and provide a first-hand experience of solar technology. 

Events like these help the grassroots population to think beyond environmentally hazardous industries and enable them to see green technologies as sustainable means of livelihood leading to a perceptual change. 

Energy Swaraj Movement

These social experiments were initially started with solar lamps and were later on generalized to solar energy solutions. Social Innovations at the grass-root level can have a tremendous impact on climate change mitigation, livelihoods, and sustainable living on the planet. Gandhiji said that ‘There is enough in nature only for the need and not for the greed.’ It means that in an ecosystem of finite resources, one can only have finite consumption. The World, however, seems to think on the contrary. The need is not mass production, but the production by the masses. Energy is needed for all developmental goals, however, our present-day dependence on conventional resources needs heavy imports. This makes the system fragile and vulnerable. Alternative sources were needed to be established and a comprehensive system was needed for its sustenance. The need for people engagement in transforming the landscape of green energy led to the launch of the “Energy Swaraj movement” in Jan 2020 with a mission to recommend energy and policy recommendation to 50 countries, spread e-awareness to 100 million people on energy literacy, provide e-training to 10 million people, extend e-solutions to 1 million households, nurture 1 hundred thousand entrepreneurs and the e-sustain environment through planting 350 million saplings for a sustainable future.

As per a recent study published in media, India’s renewable energy sector, including the solar and wind power generation segments, could create new job opportunities between 2.0 million and 4.5 million over the next 25 years. The two green energy sectors are now outpacing fossil fuel energy as investment opportunities providing 12 percent higher annual returns, 20 percent lower annual volatility, and 61 percent higher risk-adjusted returns than the coal and natural gas sectors, as per the study conducted by Climate Policy Initiative and Indian School of Business along with experts from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Delhi.

Creating future leaders and advancing green human capital supply chain through energy by local for local model holds the good potential to transform the landscape of future employment and mitigate the risk of skill shortage in the green economy. As per James Cameron, Canadian environmentalist & filmmaker “the nation that leads in renewable energy will be the nation that leads the world.” This statement may seem bizarre at first but it is actually reasonable and probably even true. Light of social innovations navigated through self-sufficiency, awareness, and training towards Avoid, Minimise and Generate approach to bring self-sufficiency has great potential for zero carbon footprints in the coming years not only for India but across the globe.

About the Author

Shikha Rastogi is the CHRO & Board Advisor at Bloom CE Technology. She is an XLRI Alumni with Global HR experience across Fortune 500 MNCs and Indian Organisations located in the US, India, and Southeast Asia. She is an agile and future-focused leader with experience in organizational transformation and talent capability augmentation in a hyper-growth environment of IT, Fin-Tech services, Telecom, Media, and Emerging Tech industry.

Consistent award winner, Shikha Rastogi has won an accolade at the Global level for “Best Use of Social Collaboration and knowledge sharing” at LEAD 18 in Salt Lake City Utah(US). She has rich experience in leading change and coaching senior business leaders to align people systems with business strategy for creating success factors. Her HR endeavors have led to the receipt of “Most Influential HR Leader in India” by Dr. Marshall Goldsmith. She has also been awarded the “Exemplary Women Leadership Achievement Award” by World Women Leadership Congress for demonstrating excellent leadership and management skills in the organization and for making changes and achieving results.

Her conjuration with various organizations has been a successful journey to reinvent business productivity and performance benchmark for the industry. She has played an active role in mid to large scale HR transformations during Merger & Acquisitions in fortune 500 GICs & media companies. She has been instrumental in leading OD & leadership development initiatives to create and nurture winning teams from diverse backgrounds and geographies. In the years to come, her vision is to create a resilient and agile workforce, support a green economy, women in tech, STEM initiatives and bring unique and innovative transformations to enhance organizational capability and leadership excellence.