KIGALI, RWANDA / NAIROBI, KENYA � In sub-Saharan Africa, where more than 600 million people still lack access to electricity, off-grid renewable power is seen as one of the fastest ways to get energy where it's needed, particularly to remote and rural areas where many Africans live.

But a big challenge stands in the way, experts say: a lack of trained workers able to plan, install and maintain solar, wind and other clean energy systems.

In power-hungry Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo, for instance, "we've had very significant challenges finding very capable talent, particularly at the senior management level," said Kweku Yankson, head of human resources in Africa for BBOXX, a clean energy company working to expand off-grid systems in 12 countries from Rwanda to Pakistan.

Rwanda, in turn, has what Yankson described as a big pool of job-ready young talent but still relatively few people trained in clean energy technology.

Overall, only 16,000 people are recorded as working in renewable energy in sub-Saharan Africa, outside South Africa, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

That is just 0.1 percent of the global renewable energy workforce, and fewer than the number of people who work on wind power in the U.S. state of Illinois alone, IRENA noted.

But with demand growing for renewable energy entrepreneurs and for workers in product assembly, sales, marketing, finance and intellectual property, efforts are underway to provide the talent needed.

4.5 million jobs

A Powering Jobs campaign, launched in October at an international off-grid renewable energy conference in Singapore, aims to train up to a million people globally by 2025 to meet demand for renewable energy workers.

The effort, led by Power for All, an organization that promotes more use of decentralized power, and backed by the Schneider Electric Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation, will focus on building skills in countries where electricity access is very low, said Gilles Vermot Desroches, director of

sustainable development at Schneider.

The push is part of a broader global campaign to fill an expected 4.5 million jobs related to expansion of off-grid renewable energy by 2030, according to IRENA estimates.

That expansion is focused in part on achieving a global sustainable-development goal of providing universal access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy by 2030.

The push for more trained renewable energy workers comes as an increasing number of countries around Africa try to ramp up use of off-grid renewable energy.

Kenya in December launched a new national electrification strategy that includes stand-alone, off-grid renewable energy systems as a key part of the country's goal of achieving 100 percent access to electricity by 2022.

About three-quarters of Kenyans currently have access to electricity, according to the new plan.

Part of Kenya's push is an off-grid solar access project that aims to connect 1.3 million people in 14 particularly underserved counties, said Isaac Kiva, secretary of renewable energy in Kenya's Ministry of Energy.

"We are also now working with our education system to develop solar-specific curricula in order to build the necessary capacity," he said.

In Rwanda, the government is collaborating with U.S. universities, including Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, and partnering with online learning efforts to provide better access to training for clean energy jobs, Nzirabatinya said.

"This will have a positive impact on the job readiness of the talent pool in Rwanda," he predicted.

Source: Voice of America