Women in renewable energy: A call for education, equity and empowerment

Manthan Shah and Spriha Pandey

13 September 2021

Women in renewable energy: A call for education, equity and empowerment
  • India has embarked on several national missions to empower women through accessible and quality education, skilling, and re-skilling opportunities – from school to vocational and professional courses
  • The renewable energy (RE) sector creates newer prospects for female inclusion in the workforce through energy self-sufficiency and grassroots entrepreneurial avenues
  • Policy-oriented solutions such as government schemes must be targeted at creating better financing options for women to encourage inclusion in the RE sector

It is often said that empowering women is the key to changing the world. As the majority grassroots beneficiaries of energy access programmes to provide clean cooking fuel, women in India are at the forefront of India’s rapid energy transition. However, women account for only 11 per cent of the workforce in the rooftop solar (RTS) sector in India, significantly less than the global average of women in the overall renewable energy (RE) sector, at 32 per cent (IEA and CEEW 2019).

Estimates predict that India’s national income would increase by 27 per cent if the participation of women in the workforce matches the level of men (Elborgh-Woytek, et al. 2013). Hence, the inclusion of women in the RE workforce has the potential to greatly benefit the economy. However, constraints such as the lack of relevant skills, self-sufficiency, and financing inhibit women from participating in this transition.

These challenges were the subject of discussion in the virtual conference on Women in Renewable Energy and Sustainability organised by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) and the International Solar Alliance (ISA) on 07 July 2021. 

The key challenges

The degree of women’s involvement in the ongoing energy transition, and the obstacles, can be attributed to three key problem areas.

The first is a dearth of skill development. According to Deloitte, the female labour force participation in India has fallen to 26 per cent in 2018 from 36.7 per cent in 2005 (Deloitte 2019). The report ascribes this to a lack of access to quality education and an increase in male income which removed the requirement of a ‘second income source’ in homes. Grassroots research in India suggests that women are instead expected to prioritise household responsibilities over skill development (Woetzel, et al. 2018).

In India, RE offers opportunities for women employment in the installation, operation and maintenance of the growing energy power projects such as RTS and biogas projects. However, to succeed in these sectors, women need both technical and entrepreneurial skills. Present government programmes such as Suryamitra Skill Development Programme (SSDP) and Training Institutions under the Skill Council for Green Jobs (SCGJ) aim to develop the skills of youth and women. Skilling them in these areas could help close the education and training gaps.

Another key issue is a lack of financing options for women-led ventures. A staggering 80 per cent of women-owned businesses globally with credit needs are either unserved or underserved, creating a financing gap of INR 126 lakh crore (USD 1.7 trillion) (Kende-Robb 2019). This is because women do not usually possess property assets that they might use as collateral for loans. In India, this problem is especially concentrated in rural regions.

Easily accessible funds can help fuel women start-ups in renewable, alongside other, sectors. For example, the United Nations in India and NITI Aayog recently set up an Investor Consortium (IC) for women entrepreneurs in both rural and urban regions. The consortium brings together key ecosystem stakeholders, including venture capitalists and impact investors, to work with women entrepreneurs on the funding of start-ups, job creation, financial inclusion and overall capacity building. The Powering Livelihoods Initiative by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water and Villgro also has programmes that provide funds to entrepreneurial women in rural regions.

The third major obstacle is a lack of participation and entrepreneurial agency among women. The labour force participation rate for women aged 25 to 54 is only 63 per cent compared to 94 per cent for men globally (UN Women 2018). Within this, too, women work at lower positions and for a lesser wage than men in the same fields. Although the RE sector employs 32 per cent of women globally, compared to 22 per cent in the overall energy sector, much more can be done in this sector to increase women’s share in the workforce, especially in India. (IRENA 2020).

One way the RE sector can combat a lack of participation and entrepreneurship is by equipping women with energy self-sufficiency. For example, in the past, female salt producers in Gujarat worked as bonded labourers, relying on traders for capital for diesel-run salt pumps. However, the installation of solar panels under government schemes such as the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Urja Suraksha evam Utthaan Mahabhiyan Yojana (PM-KUSUM) enabled them to gain energy independence – freeing them of traders and allowing them to sell salt profitably.

Overall, it is important to recognise and celebrate the progress that has been made in providing women with better prospects in India and the world. However, at the same time, it is necessary to remember that much work remains to be done. As India’s energy sector undergoes a transition, the expanding RE sector creates newer opportunities for gender inclusion in the workforce. It is time we embrace this, including women in India’s transition to a future driven by renewable energy.


Deloitte. 2019. *Female labour force participation falls to 26% in 2018 from 36.7% in 2005: Report.* Report , New Delhi: UNGCNI. Accessed August 2021, 2021. https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/in/Documents/about-deloitte/UNGCNI_black_final%20v6%20web%20high%20res.pdf.

Elborgh-Woytek, Katrin, Monique Newiak, Kalpana Kochhar, Stefania Fabrizio , Kangni R Kpodar, Philippe Wingender, Benedict J. Clements , and Gerd Schwartz. 2013. Women, Work, and the Economy : Macroeconomic Gains from Gender Equity. Paper, International Monetary Fund. Accessed August 17, 2021. https://www.business-standard.com/article/economy-policy/india-s-income-will-go-up-by-27-with-women-participation-imf-116111500123_1.html.

IEA and CEEW. 2019. "Women Working in the Rooftop Solar Sector."

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Kende-Robb, Caroline. 2019. To improve women's access to finance, stop asking them for collateral. June 18. Accessed August 17, 2021. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/06/women-finance-least-developed-countries-collateral/.

Khera, Purva. 2018. Closing Gender Gaps in India: Does Increasing Womens’ Access to Finance Help? September 2018. Accessed August 17, 2021. https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/WP/Issues/2018/09/28/Closing-Gender-Gaps-in-India-Does-Increasing-Womens-Access-to-Finance-Help-46251.

UN Women. 2018. Facts and Figures: Economic Empowerment. July. Accessed August 17, 2021. https://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/economic-empowerment/facts-and-figures.

—. 2018. Turning promises into action: Gender equality in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Accessed August 17, 2021. https://www.unwomen.org/en/digital-library/publications/2018/2/gender-equality-in-the-2030-agenda-for-sustainable-development-2018.

Woetzel, Jonathan, Anu Madgavkar, Kevin Sneader, Oliver Tonby, Diaan Li-Yinn, John Lydon, Sha Sha, Mekala Krishnan, Kweilin Ellingrud, and Michael Gubieski. 2018. The power of parity: Advancing women’s equality in India. May 1. Accessed August 17, 2021. https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/gender-equality/the-power-of-parity-advancing-womens-equality-in-india-2018.

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