Strategies for Sustainable Energy Transitions for Urban Sub-Saharan Africa – SETUSA 2017

The SAMSET project team is pleased to announce the hosting of the Strategies for Sustainable Energy Transitions for Urban Sub-Saharan Africa (SETUSA) Conference, which will be held at the Institute of Statistical, Social and Economic Research (ISSER) Conference Facility, University of Ghana, Legon, Accra, Ghana from the 19th – 20th June 2017.

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By 2050, it is envisaged that three out of five people from the estimated 2 billion population across Africa will be living in cities. Sub-Saharan African economies have grown 5.3 percent per annum in the past decade, triggering a dramatic increase in energy needs. Against this backdrop, it is estimated that by 2040 about 75% of the total energy consumption in Sub-Saharan Africa will be in urban areas with its associated implications on sustainable development.

Given these challenges on sustainable development, solutions for sustainable energy transitions in the Sub-Saharan African region are extremely important, and likely to have wide-ranging consequences on the sustainability of the region’s economies. This reality also imposes an urgent obligation on the continent to consider sourcing more of its abundant renewable energy resources to ensure long-term security of energy supply. Particularly, renewable energy resources — solar, wind, organic wastes – and their corresponding technologies offer more promises for sustainable energy futures than the conventional energy sources.

Therefore, there is the need first of all to raise awareness on renewable energy options and energy efficiency opportunities in urban areas, and to promote strategies which will maximise their benefits in providing secure, sustainable and affordable energy to meet the rising energy demand in the region’s fast-growing cities. Secondly, there is also the need for national as well as local government planners and policy makers to understand local urban contexts so that they can grasp the significant opportunities of engaging at a local level, as well as acquire the critical set of capacities and skills necessary to drive and influence the uptake of clean energy and efficient technologies.

The conference aims to bring together social scientists, policy-makers and entrepreneurs in the urban clean energy sphere, to discuss strategies for moving Sub-Saharan African economies to a more sustainable energy transition pathway. We are inviting papers on energy efficient buildings, energy efficiency and demand-side management in urban areas, renewable energy and energy supply in urban areas, electrification and access to modern energy in urban areas, waste to energy in urban areas, spatial planning and energy infrastructure in urban areas, energy and transportation in urban areas.

Details of the call for papers and other information, can be found on the conference website:

More information on the SAMSET project can also be found on our homepage:

Sub Saharan African local government and SDG 7 – is there a link?

Megan Euston-Brown from SEA writes on the importance of considering local government spheres in sustainable energy development in light of the recent UN Sustainable Development Goals 7.

Building an urban energy picture for Sub Saharan Africa (SSA) is a relatively new endeavour, but policy makers would do well to take heed of the work underway [1]. The emerging picture indicates that current levels of energy consumption in the urban areas of SSA is proportionally higher than population and GDP [2]. These areas represent dense nodes of energy consumption. Africa’s population is expected to nearly double from 2010 to 2040 with over 50% of population urbanized by 2040 (AfDB 2011). Thus by 2040 it is likely that well over 50% of the energy consumed in the region will be consumed within urban areas. Strategies to address energy challenges – notably those contained within SDG 7 relating to the efficient deployment of clean energy and energy access for all – must therefore be rooted in an understanding of the end uses of energy in these localities for effective delivery.


Analyses of the end uses of energy consumption in urban SSA generally indicate the overwhelming predominance of the transport sector. Residential and commercial sectors follow as prominent demands. Cooking, water heating, lighting and space cooling are high end use applications. Industrial sector energy consumption is of course critical to the economy, but is generally a relatively small part of the urban energy picture (either through low levels of industrialisation or energy intensive heavy industries lying outside municipal boundaries).

Spatial form and transport infrastructure are strong drivers of urban transport energy demand. Meeting the ‘low carbon’ challenge in SSA will depend on zoning and settlement patterns (functional densities), along with transport infrastructure, that enables, continues to prioritise and greatly improve, public modalities. These approaches will also build greater social inclusion and mobility.

The high share of space heating, ventilation and lighting end uses of total urban energy demand points to the significant role of the built environment in urban end use energy consumption.

These drivers of energy demand are areas that intersect strongly with local government functions and would not be addressed through a traditional supply side energy policy [3]. Understanding the local mandate in this regard will be important in meeting national and global sustainable energy targets.


Urban highway in Ghana. Image: Dennis Mokoala)

The goal of access to modern, safe energy sources is predominantly a national supply-side concern. However, with the growth of decentralised systems (and indeed household or business unit scale systems being increasingly viable) local government may have a growing role in this area. In addition an energy services approach that supplements energy supply with services such as solar water heating, or efficiency technologies (e.g. LED lighting), may draw in local government as the traditionally mandated service delivery locus of government.

An analysis of the mandate of local government with regard to sustainable energy development across Ghana, South Africa and Uganda indicates:

  1. National constitutional objectives provide a strong mandate for sustainable development, environmental protection and energy access and local government would need to interpret their functions through this constitutional ‘lens’;
  2. Knowing the impact of a fossil fuel business-as-usual trajectory on local and global environments, local government would be constitutionally obliged to undertake their activities in a manner that supports a move towards a lower carbon energy future;
  3. Infrastructure and service delivery would need to support the national commitments to energy access for all;
  4. Decentralisation of powers and functions to local government is a principle across the three countries reviewed, but the degree of devolution of powers differs and will affect the ability of local government to proactively engage in new approaches;
  5. Existing functional areas where local government may have a strong influence in supporting national and global SDG 7 (sustainable energy) targets include: municipal facilities and operations, basic services (water, sanitation, and in some instances energy/electricity) and service infrastructure, land use planning (zoning and development planning approval processes), urban roads and public transport services and building control.
  6. Where local government has a strong service delivery function it is well placed to be a site of delivery for household energy services and to play a role in facilitating embedded generation. New technologies may mean that smaller, decentralised electricity systems offer greater resilience and cost effectiveness over large systems in the face of rapid demand growth. These emerging areas will require policy development and support.

In practice the ability of local government to respond to these mandates is constrained by the slow or partial implementation of administrative and fiscal decentralisation in the region. Political support of longer-term sustainable urban development pathways is vital. Experience in South Africa suggests that the process is dynamic and iterative: as experience, knowledge and capacity develops locally in relation to sustainable energy functions, so the national policy arena begins to engage with this. Thus, while international programmes and national policy would do well to engage local government towards meeting SDG 7, local government also needs to proactively build its own capacity to step into the space.

[1] In South Africa this work has been underway since 2003; SAMSET is pioneering such work in Ghana and in Uganda and the World Bank’s ESMAP has explored this area in Ghana, Ethiopia and Kenya. SAMSET is also undertaking a continent-wide urban energy futures model.

[2] Working Paper: An exploration of the sustainable energy mandate at the local government level in Sub-Saharan Africa, with a focus on Ghana, South Africa and Uganda. Euston-Brown, Bawakyillenuo, Ndiwambi and Agbelie (2015).

[3] Noting that not all drivers of energy demand intersect with local government functions, for example, increasing income will drive a shift to energy intensive private transport; and that population and economic growth will always be the overarching drivers of demand.


Ongoing ‘Decreasing International Solar PV Prices’.

Simon Batchelor from Gamos writes to continue the theme of global solar PV prices, and their continuing price reduction.

In his blog on Decentralised Solar PV Acceleration in South Africa, my colleague, Mark Borchers, noted that “Where national grid power prices are rising fast, as is the case in many African countries, the decreasing international solar PV prices will sooner or later lead to a situation where it makes sense for businesses to install their own grid-connected rooftop systems.”  In a blog last year “Will Solar Photovoltaics Continue to Decrease their Cost?” we shared some insights into the ‘decreasing international solar PV prices’.

It is well worth keeping an eye on this price descent of solar, and this blog takes the opportunity to refer to a new report by IRENA – The International Renewable Energy Agency. The report “THE POWER TO CHANGE: SOLAR AND WIND COST REDUCTION POTENTIAL TO 2025” focuses on utility scaled activities, nevertheless they present an up to date analysis of solar photovoltaics and suggestions of costs through to 2025.

They confirm that solar PV modules have high learning rates (i.e. cost reductions as technology manufacturers accumulate experience) (18% to 22%) and rapid deployment – there was around 40% growth in cumulative installed capacity in each of 2012 and 2013 and around 30% in 2014 and 2015. These factors resulted in PV module prices declining by around 80% between the end of 2009 and the end of 2015. In 2011, price declines accelerated as oversupply created a buyer’s market. The price declines then slowed between 2013 and 2015 as manufacturer margins reached more sustainable levels and trade disputes set price floors in some markets. Current country average module prices range from USD 0.52 to USD 0.72/W. They believe that module costs are set to continue to fall, and they state that by their reckoning, module costs will have dropped by 42% by 2025.

However these module costs are only part of the system costs. IRENA shows that there are considerable gains to be made by reducing all the other system costs. In their figure 2 (see below) they show some of the balance of system costs for various countries of utility scale PV projects. It is interesting to note that the difference between China and Germany on the one hand and Australia and Japan on the other is a factor of 3. The report suggests that there is considerable room for reducing these balance of system costs further and it is improved efficiencies of installation that will continue to drive the system prices down.

The report also considers the levelised cost of electricity (LCOE), which takes into account the lifetime of the system, the ongoing operation and maintenance costs, as well as the capital investment. They note that the LCOE of solar PV fell 58% between 2010-15, making it increasingly competitive at utility scale. Of course looking ahead there are many unknowns, however their predictions are that utility scale PV could have project costs in the range of USD 0.03 to USD 0.12/kWh by 2025.

This general trend highlighted by the report in the context of utility scale PV nevertheless supports Mark Borchers’ observations on shopping malls and PV. He noted that “a combination of steadily reducing international solar PV prices and consistently higher-than-inflation electricity price hikes” was behind the decision to put solar PV on malls, and that “such installations are now a financial no-brainer – giving an 18% internal rate of return (IRR) with a 5 year payback”. While the IRENA report had a slightly different focus (scale of PV), it nevertheless confirms that PV is likely to continue its price descent, making the IRR for shopping malls in South Africa even better in the coming years.

Mark ends his blog by stating that since this is financially worthwhile, and will inevitably become even more so, he calls for urban areas to think about the “big implications for sustainable energy planning”. We echo that call.


Decentralised Solar PV Acceleration in South Africa

Mark Borchers from SEA writes on a recent visit to an embedded photovoltaic generation project in a commercial building, and the insights into the industry acceleration gained there.

I recently visited a shopping mall in Tshwane, South Africa, which had installed a grid-connected solar PV system on its roof (called an ‘embedded’ generator – because it is embedded in the local distribution grid). This is not unusual in the country nowadays, and estimates are that over 1000 embedded, distributed PV systems are in existence around the country, generating 40 to 50 Megawatts during the day. But I was struck by the fact that the mall developer said that for them such installations are now a financial no-brainer – giving an 18% internal rate of return (IRR) with a 5 year payback (whereas the decision to build a mall only requires a 10% IRR). So they intend to do these installations on all malls they construct. What’s behind this trend? Largely a combination of steadily reducing international solar PV prices and consistently higher-than-inflation electricity price hikes. Also, mall and other commercial operation load profiles tend to match solar PV generation quite well, being daytime-peaking.


While national government and most municipalities do not yet have clear regulatory frameworks to accommodate such installations, the financial case particularly in the commercial sector is such that they are happening anyway, leaving the government to catch a horse that has already bolted from the stable. A few quick calculations show that mall construction alone is likely to add 6 or more Mega-Watts (MW) of solar PV to the country’s electricity grid capacity per year. Others estimate that 500MW per year could be added from these embedded PV systems from all sectors. That’s about 1% of the total national generation capacity per year, which is significant, and something that national electricity planners will have to take seriously.

There are many benefits to these developments, but also challenges. The benefits include growth in renewable, low carbon energy, local economic development, and the fact that such generation capacity is entirely privately funded. The challenges include potential revenue loss from electricity distributors due to reduced sales, and balancing the grid power at a national level to meet the country’s demand – particularly the evening peak demand where solar PV does not contribute. There has been significant work done to show how the country can negotiate these challenges, but it does mean that well-entrenched systems have to adjust and change – which seldom happens quickly. Overall, this trend is in keeping with what is being observed internationally: that the future will move increasingly towards decentralized generation, with solar PV in particular becoming an increasingly big player. It has been suggested that the days of large power utilities are numbered. (


This is a development we need to keep an eye on in urban Sub-Saharan Africa as a whole. Where national grid power prices are rising fast, as is the case in many African countries, the decreasing international solar PV prices will sooner or later lead to a situation where it makes sense for businesses to install their own grid-connected rooftop systems. And this is likely to happen irrespective of what government or utilities do, or don’t do, about it. It’s an inevitable transformation of the power sector which has big implications for sustainable energy planning in urban areas.

Ghana’s Drive for Gas Power Calls Commitment to Renewables into Question

Innocent K. Agbelie and Simon Bawakyillenuo from the University of Ghana ISSER write on the Ghanaian government’s gas policy and renewables development. This article was originally posted at

From 2012 to the beginning of 2016, the Government of Ghana has been stretched to the limit due to the existing power supply infrastructure’s inability to provide constant and reliable electricity for domestic and industrial activities. This has resulted in the acute electricity supply load shedding known as ‘Dumsor’.


Ghana’s electricity supply market currently has an estimated 10 to 15 percent year-on-year demand growth rate, underpinned by increasing domestic and industrial demand. Prominent among the actions taken by government to placate highly agitated power consumers is the expansion of thermal plant facilities, which are powered by gas imported from Nigeria and also from the Atuabo Gas plant in Jomoro District in the Western Region of Ghana. Since 2000 the share of thermal plants in the total national installed capacity has been on the rise, contrary to the country’s avowed green economic development pathway. This share (computed from the difference between the total national installed capacity and total hydropower installed capacity as reported by the Energy Commission,2014 and 2015) went up from 16.8% in 2000 to 31.8% and 44.1% in 2005 and 2014 respectively.

In contrast, the total installed new renewables’ capacity is a woeful 0.1% of the national total power installed capacity in 2014, while the share of hydro-power installed capacity declined from 83.2% in 2000 to 55.8% in 2014. The increasing share of thermal power generation sources will increase Ghana’s carbon emissions, accelerating climate change and the associated extreme events.

According to the Minister of Energy and Petroleum, the Government of Ghana wants to ensure that the nation becomes self-sufficient in its energy supply. Accordingly, government intends to increase the share of thermal generation capacity to 80% in the total national installed power generation capacity in the next 10 years. These thermal plants, according to the Minster, will be powered by the cheapest source of fuel: gas. This pronouncement sadly evokes lots more questions than answers in the minds of many, including: “What is the future of renewable energy development in the next decade as it is uncertain what the remaining 20% of the installed generation capacity will constitute?”, “What will be the effect of having 80% thermal plants on Ghana’s carbon footprint in the next decade and beyond?”, “Does a cheap fuel source necessarily guarantee a clean fuel source?”

These and many other questions should prompt a rethink in the nation’s quest to become self-sufficient in not just energy, but clean and sustainable energy in the next decade.

Ghana’s 2010 National Energy Policy sets a target of 10% of total energy production from renewable energy sources by 2020. This will require an installed renewable energy generation capacity of 450MW. Although the target is backed by the Renewable Energy Act 2011 it is highly unachievable since the present total installedrenewable energy capacity as of 2014 is 2.5 MW representing 0.1% of the total national installed generation capacity.

Taking into account government’s pronouncement of increasing thermal share to 80% in ten years’ time, the future of the already unachievable renewable energy target is even more questionable. The thermally oriented energy mix projections into the future calls into question the sustainable development and green economy agenda of the country, given that Ghana is signatory to many international conventions and protocols that incorporate sustainability issues.

According to estimates by Ghana’s Environmental Protection Agency, the country’s annual greenhouse gas emissions have been on the rise, growing from 10 Mt CO2e in 1991 to 34 Mt CO2e in 2012. The bulk contributors to these emissions are the Energy, Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use (AFOLU) sectors. The country’s Third National Communication Report to the UNFCCC highlights that Ghana’s emission rate has grown significantly over the past two decades and contributes 33.66 Mt CO2e to global GHG emissions. With a projection of thermal plants making up 80% of the energy mix in the next 10 years, Ghana’s emissions are bound to increase significantly in direct contrast to the Policy Programme area of minimizing GHG emissions as outlined in the 2013 Ghana National Climate Change Policy.

Cheap-fuel thermal plants appear rather costly to the national and global environment in the medium to long-term. A more sustainable approach is required through commitment to policy strategies coupled with political will on the part of leaders, to take bold decisions in order to drive the renewable energy agenda just like they are doing on the thermal agenda. The fact is, the formulation of policies by policy makers are inadequate for a sustainable energy transition if practical actions are not taken to implement them. Civil society groups, research and advocacy organisations also need to put pressure on government so that it accomplishes its pronounced targets for renewable energy generation.

Smart Power – Smart Storage

Simon Batchelor from Gamos writes on the increasing role that smart energy storage solutions have in developing sustainable urban energy.

On Friday 4th March 2016, the UK government published an interesting report on ‘Smart Power’ which might be relevant to the forward thinking municipalities of SAMSET. This was a review where the the (UK) National Infrastructure Commission was asked to consider how the UK can better balance supply and demand, aiming towards an electricity market where prices are reflective of costs to the overall system. Its findings have some relevance to the longer term planning for the municipalities involved in SAMSET.

‘Smart power’ makes practical recommendations to improving the electricity market of UK – not new subsidies or substantial public spending but three key recommendations. One of the three key recommendations is “to encourage network owners to use storage.” The Smart power report found that the flexible smart power system recommended by the National Infrastructure Commission could result in savings of up to £8.1 billion a year by 2030.

SBatch samset image1 mar2016

The strategic use of storage could create an operational flexibility that would “significantly reduce the integration cost of intermittent renewables, to the point where their whole-system cost makes them a more attractive expansion”. Increasing flexibility was found to be “low-regret option”, reducing the overall cost while maintaining security of supply requirements.

Why is storage a key to unlocking the UK grid? Storage allows consumers and suppliers to take energy and store it so that it can be used when it is most needed. In the UK electricity prices vary throughout the day, and across the year. When demand is higher, prices rise. Storage technology allows consumers to buy electricity when it is cheap and use it later when it is needed. There are a number of ways electricity can be stored. Today, the UKs main source of storage is through pumped hydro – simply converting electric energy into potential energy and back by moving water up and down a hill. There is, however, an increasing range of alternative ways to store energy including; chemical batteries, compressed air and supercapacitors.

SBatch samset image2 mar2016

Electricity has historically been difficult and expensive to store. However, over the last decade there has been a great deal of innovation in electricity storage technologies driven mostly by consumer electronics like mobile phones and investment in electric vehicles. This rapidly evolving environment has driven innovation and reduced costs. For example, the cost of lithium ion batteries has decreased from more than $3,000/kWh in 1990 to less than $200/ kWh today. These technologies are now on the verge of being able to compete with power stations for some of the services they provide. Crucially, storage technology will not need subsidies to be attractive to investors – businesses are already queuing up to invest.

We are not talking small batteries here. The report gives two examples. The ‘Kilroot Advancion® Energy Storage Array’ is based in Carrickfergus in Northern Ireland and offers 10 MW of interconnected energy storage, equivalent to 20 MW flexible resource. This storage – which is comprised of over 53,000 batteries – is able to respond to changes in the grid in less than a second, providing a very fast response ancillary service to help balance the electricity system at times of high demand. The array is a fully commercial project, with no additional costs for consumers. The ‘Big Battery’ in Leighton Buzzard scheme features a 6MW/10MWh storage solution comprising approximately 50,000 lithium ion batteries, which has enabled UK Power Networks to manage electricity demand at peak times without building excess capacity.

It is the idea that storage unlocks some of the generating potential of the middle of the night that may prove attractive. With the right policy environment, battery costs could enable municipalities to mitigate power outages, and shave off peak loading. This would give everyone a better experience with their electricity supply, enable more renewables to be in the system, and according to the report, this could be done at no additional cost to the consumers. Most grid profiles are similar to the one above for the UK. There is low use in the middle of the night, increasing during the day, and with a peak demand in the early evening as lights, televisions and cooking come on. This is true even for sub Saharan Africa as the daily load curves for Kenya illustrates. Using and storing that ‘middle of the night’ energy could improve consumers experience without creating new generating capacity.

SB 3dgraph image3 mar2016


Bring Me Sunshine…

Simon Batchelor from Gamos writes on the Witkop Solar Farm in Limpopo Province, South Africa,

At our recent network meeting in Polokwane, we visited Witkop Solar Farm which is within the municipality’s boundaries.  Witkop is a 30 megawatt solar farm built and maintained by SunEdison in the province of Limpopo of South Africa.  There is remarkably little on the internet to describe this installation although that may be a function of the ease of installing and running solar farms?  It was part of South Africa’s push to get Independent Power Producers to install renewable energy.   In an overview of the processes involved, Eberhard, Kolker & Leigland  (2014) note the difference between South Africa’s competitive tender approach and a Feed in Tariff as used in many other countries.   “South Africa occupies a central position in the global debate regarding the most effective policy instruments to accelerate and sustain private investment in renewable energy. In 2009, the government began exploring feed-in tariffs (FITs) for renewable energy, but these were later rejected in favor of competitive tenders. The resulting program, now known as the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Program (REIPPPP), has successfully channeled substantial private sector expertise and investment into grid-connected renewable energy in South Africa at competitive prices.”

Witkop was cited in the preferred bids in 2011 by the South African government, named in the pipeline in 2012, and construction started in 2013. As part of the terms of the financing agreement, power generated from the two facilities will be purchased by Eskom, the national utility in South Africa, through a 20-year power purchase agreement.

As part of our network meeting, SAMSET created a video ‘Aide Memoire’ of the visit, as seen below.