The European Union's ambition to rapidly expand solar and wind power relies on a big increase in the solar and wind workforce during a difficult hiring season.
According to industry association SolarPower Europe, solar employment in the EU increased by 30% by 2022 to over 600,000 jobs, including indirect roles in materials and transportation.
By 2030 the EU will need more than 1 million solar workers to meet higher renewable energy targets set recently by the EU to end the region's reliance on Russian oil and gas, SolarPower Europe said.
The EU plans to increase solar capacity to 320 GW by 2025 and install 600 GW by 2030 through its REPowerEU initiative. Wind capacity must be doubled to more over 500 GW, it claimed, putting additional strain on the labor sector.
In 2030, 80% of solar jobs will be in installation, an area where companies are already struggling to find workers.
Sanda Bozic, head of Human Resources EMEA at developer BayWa r.e., said at Reuters Events that solar builders are competing for staff with the larger energy and automotive businesses.
“Companies in the industry are not only faced with the challenge to retain their workforce, but to grow it during a time when there is already a lack of fresh talent," Bozic said.
The European Commission (EC) has vowed to assist skills development as part of a new Green Deal Industrial Plan, which goes into effect on February 1, but industry executives urge the EU to do more to help train and retain workers.
One of the most "severe bottlenecks" is a skills shortage, cautioned a SolarPower Europe representative, adding that this could jeopardize solar growth.
Many of the shortages are caused by broader demographic shifts, according to Stefan Hobmair, head of People Development at developer BayWa r.e.
According to the German Economic Institute, Germany, Europe's largest solar market, will be short of 5 million workers by 2030 as long-term declining birth rates lower the number of individuals entering the labor force.
At the same time, due to the increasing competitiveness of solar and ambitious installation targets, demand for labor is increasing faster than in other sectors.
Around 60% of German electrical contractors working in the sector have vacancies while Swedish installation companies plan to hire 28,000 workers over the next five years, according to electrical contractors association EuropeOn.
The wind sector is a significant competitor for some skills, Antonio Scala, head of People and Organization Global Industry at Enel, noted. EU wind employment was around 300,000 jobs in 2020, of which 62,000 were in the offshore wind industry, according to industry group WindEurope.
"In principle, the entire renewable field is highly competitive," Scala said. "The wind industry is more consolidated and mature but it is continuing to grow quickly, as a consequence it represents and will keep representing an important competitor for [skilled solar jobs]."
Scala stated that there are existing shortages in the solar industry, ranging from electrical, civil, and mechanical engineering to project management and business development.
Enel is also searching for new skill sets in solar and wind, such as sustainability experts, BIM specialists, and remote technical advisers.
According to Heather Hayes, Global HR Director at developer Lightsource bp, the rising use of technology in the design and development of solar projects means a greater demand for expertise in geographic information systems (GIS) and data and systems analysis.
According to Scala, Enel mostly recruits from the energy utilities and industrial sectors because many talents can be transferred.
SolarPower Europe wants the EU to take a more hands-on approach and integrate national training activities to enhance labour mobility among EU countries.
"The movement of workers could be better facilitated with an EU assessment of the skills gap, more standardised certifications, as well as country-level communications campaigns and partnerships on critical skills," the spokesperson said.
If member states agree to the EU's Green Deal Industrial Plan, it will loosen EU state aid laws, potentially opening up new financial streams for renewable energy recruiting.