A version of this report was published by Brookings India as a chapter of its volume on making renewable power sustainable in India.
The blackout in July 2012 that left over 600 million people without electricity highlighted India’s inability to meet its economy’s voracious appetite for energy. Yet with the enormous challenge of meeting India’s growing energy demand comes an opportunity to leverage the production of renewables – biomass, mini-hydro, solar and wind – to expand the country’s energy supply while helping to address the employment challenges also plaguing the nation.
Flagging economic growth in recent years coupled with joblessness and underemployment has created the dual imperative of generating more employment and enhancing productivity. Renewables hold the potential to help address both these aims. First, investment in renewables spurs new jobs in grid construction and upgrading to smart grids, production of small-scale renewables, distribution and maintenance. Second, by improving energy supply, renewables can stimulate greater productivity across sectors, but most importantly in manufacturing. Finally, renewables offer the possibility of better working conditions, healthier and more productive livelihoods, especially when compared to non-renewable energy sectors such as the coal industry.
Renewables are not a panacea. And scaling up production of renewable energy in India is constrained by factors such as cost, pricing, and diffused geography. Yet renewables can be part of the solution in generating more and better employment, raising productivity and shifting the nation onto a cleaner, more sustainable growth trajectory. These potential dividends should further strengthen the new government’s resolve to scale up the production of renewables and maximize their potential to generate good employment in the process.