Solar energy is heating up the world’s labor market

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Cologne: “I really enjoy my job, I’m excited and I’m learning a lot,” says Fabian Rojas.

The 26-year-old Argentinian has been working since last October for a small company near the city of Cologne, in western Germany, which installs solar panels on rooftops.

The company’s CEO, René Hegel, who has been selling photovoltaic systems since 2008, hired the Argentine engineer, then visiting Germany. In this way, the company is able to meet at least part of the rapidly growing demand in the region.

“We have a lot of inquiries, I do at least six deals a week and we already have orders for the next four to five months,” Rojas told DW. “Customers want to generate their own electricity, charge their electric cars and reduce grid consumption. It also helps protect the climate.

Rojas talks to customers, customizes photovoltaic systems and sometimes helps install them on rooftops.

“Fabian is a fast learner,” Hegel says. “Over the next few months he will gain more hands-on experience and then things will get even better.”

German solar industry: help sought
Hegel plans to expand his team of four to meet the growing demand for solar power, which picks up again after a solar boom and collapse in the early 2000s.

In Germany, solar power systems with a total capacity of 5 gigawatts (GW) were installed in 2020, and this capacity is expected to increase. Studies indicate that the expansion would need to be six-fold – to 30 GW per year – in order to keep warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) this century.

To achieve this, the solar industry needs more manpower, says Günter Haug, COO at BayWa re. The Munich-based company builds large solar and wind farms around the world and continues to grow. In 2017, BayWa re had 1,100 employees; today there are 2,700.

“We are looking for engineers, financial experts, qualified personnel for project development and people with technical background for customer service,” Haug said.

To find and retain staff, Haug says the company is “prepared to make a considerable financial investment and train the candidates itself, as there are not enough qualified workers.”

“There are currently around 50,000 photovoltaic jobs in Germany,” explains Volker Quaschning, professor of renewable energy at the University of Applied Sciences Berlin (HTW). He says a lot of people are now looking for new jobs due to the coronavirus crisis.

“We have to be smart in our approach, we have to start training programs to have enough skilled workers. Otherwise the energy transition will fail due to a lack of personnel,” Quaschning told DW.

Over 60 million solar jobs around the world
In 2019, around 11.5 million people worldwide were working in the renewable energy sector, according to a report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). More than a third of them worked in photovoltaics.

IRENA believes that investments to revive the economy and labor market as countries emerge from the COVID-19 crisis should prioritize energy transition.

“We estimate that every dollar spent in this area creates three times more jobs than in the fossil fuel sector,” says Francesco La Camera, Director General of IRENA. “More and more policy makers are recognizing the employment potential.”

Solar power is now the cheapest way to generate electricity, which is why researchers expect it to make a global breakthrough as a major source of energy in the future. Currently, there are photovoltaic systems with a total capacity of around 850 GW installed worldwide.

They produce about as much electricity as 190 nuclear power plants.

Studies estimate that at least 60,000 GW of solar power will be needed to achieve a global climate neutral energy supply. To do this, the industry is expected to hire more than 60 million workers over the next decade for module production and assembly, as well as system maintenance.

Fabian Rojas, the Cologne-based engineer, is fascinated by solar and wind power, and new energy-saving technologies. He regularly exchanges ideas on these topics by video call with an Argentinian friend who is building solar power systems in the United States.

“Solar power is needed all over the world, and that is why there is a global demand for workers in this field,” Rojas said, adding that this was true for Europe as well as for Asia and the ‘South America.

“Get educated, do an internship. Fortunately, there is also a lot of information on the Internet. “

In the solar sector, he sees many opportunities to work in other places around the world and share his knowledge: “I can’t wait to see who comes knocking on our door next.



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