A Strategy to deploy solar can only work if installers are behind it

As the Commission is working on its upcoming Solar Strategy, we have the obligation to remind our readers that one of the biggest hurdles to come in the scale up of solar installations across Europe will be the availability of a highly skilled installer base spread across Europe’s regions.

While a comprehensive strategy dedicated to solar power is a great step in the right direction to drastically scale up this versatile and abundant renewable energy technology, we have to think beyond manufacturing and regulatory barriers to deployment. Indeed, at EuropeOn, we are well placed to see one of the biggest obstacles creeping up on the way to our renewables targets. The lack of workers with modern digital and green skills has the potential to put the brakes on any strategy to deploy solar energy and cannot be addressed swiftly.

Attracting enough workers and providing them with the adequate training is a long-term endeavour. It starts early by reaching out to youth and students to make them aware of the opportunities with, in this case, solar power, making sure they have the right perception of careers in our sector and informing them about educational pathways towards such careers. Acting early is also the best way to introduce more gender diversity to a sector that is made up of males for the most part.

EuropeOn has partnered with SolarPower Europe and Google on the SolarWorks project to get the ball rolling and make information easily available to prospective solar workers. But this is certainly not enough, national and local authorities must recognise and address this challenge without delay to ensure that no bottlenecks are waiting for us in a few years, when we need to install record numbers of solar panels but struggle to find installers.

In the shorter term, better and more re-skilling strategies are needed. With solar becoming truly competitive with other power generation technologies, which is set to be heavily exacerbated by the current situation with Russia, a thriving SME sector can benefit from this trend to bring more local added value and growth across Europe’s regions. For this to happen, SMEs need more support to train and up skill their workers and transitioning workers coming from other sectors.

EuropeOn has already been calling for the Directive on Renewable Energy to make Member States take stock of the available workforce to reach their climate and energy targets (such as installation of solar PV) and assess whether this is sufficient in light of these targets. Measuring this gap between available and needed workforce is the first step for a national authority to address this variable of solar growth.

The release of an EU Solar Strategy is yet another opportunity that our policymakers cannot miss to plan ahead, which is exactly what is required when considering the installer manpower. If this strategy is to be successful, it must include a skills and workforce dimension and ensure this is duly taken up by Member States, who are still the driving force for education and employment policies.