The Covid-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on most industries, many of which have shed an unprecedented number of jobs since the global outbreak. But the renewable energy sector appears resilient in the face of it all and industry stakeholders believe that it will continue to remain “crisis proof.”
Vivian Bluemel, Director of the GREEN Solar Academy, explains:
“Unlike other sectors, solar energy caters for the need of reliable electricity across different market segments – private citizens, business and government. As a result, all solar companies that I spoke to confirmed that there were no steep cuts, and some companies also carried on working as ‘essential providers’ during the recent level 4 lockdown.”
The pandemic, coupled with rolling blackouts has had the effect of promoting renewable energy’s relevance and the sector has seen increased demand. That’s because especially solar energy is reliable and provides energy for businesses to keep running uninterrupted when paired with a battery backup system. It is also a stable energy source for domestic purposes which, among other things helps keep people connected so that they can continue to communicate with family and friends and also allows for working from home, since many sectors have adapted to staff working remotely. The Covid-19 pandemic puts pressure on every part of a country’s society and economy. Meanwhile, renewable power can provide reliable electricity for many, including those living in vulnerable communities.
Mathias Weber, owner of Cape Town based Southern Cross Renewable Energy Technologies, and GREEN Solar Academy trainer, added that there is an increasing awareness of the value of renewables these days: “I’ve been in the renewables sector for over 20 years and am still overwhelmed by the number of phone calls we receive when South Africans experience load-shedding.”
In recognition of the renewable sector’s value, earlier this year the government released an updated Integrated resource Plan (IRP 2019) and Roadmap for Eskom, which aims to increase renewables’ contribution to the grid. The share of solar photovoltaics (PV), onshore wind and concentrated solar power (CSP) is set to increase, from around 5% of the current energy mix to almost 25% by 2030.
The projected increase of renewables into the grid will require investment in skilled labour among others, making the sector one of the few that will have a guaranteed upward trajectory of growth in this uncertain time.
The sector requires skilled people and in response to this need, there are concerted efforts to address the skills gap through experiential training so that job opportunities can be opened up fast.
Matt Fisher, GREEN Solar Academy regional manager from Life Choices explains that there is a low barrier to entry in the sector: “Recently we had a film director join our Super Solar School training, he felt that solar energy is the future and a far more secure career path than film in order to provide for his family. So, in the middle of his life he just opted to change career paths.”
Bluemel added that the sector is open to all kinds of skills; “Solar energy is not rocket science and offers great opportunities for a wide range of people including engineers as well as technicians. Administration, marketing and management skills are also needed in the industry. With a basic training course and light coaching, a quick and easy entry into the industry is possible.”
Bluemel warned that when dealing with electricity, a lot can go wrong and so, “starting off with the right training and working according to basic safety regulations is key.”
While a career pivot to the renewable sector may not be a consideration for everyone, transitioning your business or lifestyle to one that is powered by renewable energy should be. Bluemel’s reminder is worth keeping in mind: “The sun never sends an invoice! Once a system is set up, it will continue to provide power for up to 20 years, with very little maintenance or added capital.”