The EU needs a Solar Strategy that incentivises investments in solar skills and workforce

The EU Commission recently held a consultation on its upcoming Solar Strategy, which is an initiative as timely as it is important. Accelerating the deployment of solar power is of the highest importance in order to reach the EU’s goals for both climate and energy independence and requires strategic planning. The necessity to phase out fossil energy imports, especially from Russia, has now added on to the urgency of climate action to make the increase of renewable capacity within Europe the top priority.

EuropeOn, representing electrical contractors, including installers of PV panels, took this opportunity to ensure that the skills and workforce consideration was clear in this debate on how to increase solar installations to new heights. Indeed, along with long permitting procedures, one of the main issues affecting the deployment of solar PV centres on the installation workforce. We need both to increase the numbers of installers to meet the growing demand as well as to equip them with an enhanced skillset to reap the full benefits of solar installations thanks to an efficient integration within buildings’ energy systems.

In the reply to the Commission consultation, EuropeOn highlighted the need to act early (read: immediately) to minimise the risks of bottlenecks at the installation stage for solar power but also associated renewable energy technologies. As electrical contractors are already short-staffed and their skillsets in high demand, EU and national authorities cannot delay action any further.

A first step to take at EU and national level in order to address this shortage is to promote technical careers at the earliest stage and ensure that youth and students are not turned away from construction jobs by unfair misconceptions. Then, quality training must also be made available more widely to ensure that solar and renewable installations are of the highest quality and safety.

This process takes several years and answers a need that cannot be addressed with quick fixes. Besides, education and training are national competences, set in diverse national contexts and structures. To address worker shortages in the short term, EU and national governments must work closely with representatives of installation professionals to see how their workforce can be scaled up rapidly, depending on national situations.

In some Member States, this could be achieved with short top-up courses to enable labourers to mount solar panels under the supervision of qualified electrical contractors or with support to increase the share of apprentices working in electrical businesses. Further, in some countries, re-skilling of Ukrainian refugees can also be a short-term solution to support their economic integration while addressing this workforce issue. In any case, such efforts can only be based on close cooperation with social partners and employers’ representatives.

On the positive side, efforts to scale up the solar and electrical workforce will result in employment gains and green growth taking place at local level. Electrical contractors provide quality jobs and have many vacancies to fill, contributing to a just transition.

Finally, electrical contractors are too often confronted with ageing electrical wiring and electrical installations that are not able to support the integration of solar with electric heating or EV charging. This aspect is too often overlooked and needs to be considered to a greater extent when incentivising energy renovations and prosumer installations, especially in the ongoing recast of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD).

Read our full reply to the consultation here.