Monthly Archives: December 2013

Urban Energy Transitions – Framework Effectiveness

Jonathon Silver from Durham University offers his thoughts on the start of the SAMSET project and its progression.

During our first network meeting of SAMSET we enjoyed meeting the wider team and the range of partners involved in our collaborative investigation. In a session organised by myself and Simon Marvin from Durham University we started to outline how we intend to go about developing a knowledge exchange framework for the SAMSET. Whilst this is a bit of a mouthful the basic aim of the framework is to act as way to think about how the context of urban Africa challenges established ways of researching and supporting energy transitions.

We began our session by posing a question to the team, ‘What does your own work suggest are the two most important issues the urban energy transitions framework must consider if it is to be effective in your local context?’ Through the answers we were collectively able to begin to map out the energyscape across the different urban contexts and reflect on some of the similarities and differences that exist across Ghana, South Africa and Uganda. This is important as whilst there are some obvious commonalities such as high rates of energy poverty, other issues such as the links to climate change provide some very different contexts for work by the team. As such we see the framework as informing the SAMSET investigation about the place based nature of energy transitions, something that has been lacking in much of the literature examining such issues. Over the next few months we will be bringing together these various dynamics into the framework that we hope will begin to interrogate what an urban energy transition means in different places, the key actors and drivers in such processes and the opportunities that are available across the cities we will be working in. We were pleased that the network meeting provided the first step in this process and look forward to meeting the wider team again later in the year to report back on our progress.

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SAMSET and the Wicked Problem of Sustainable Energy – First Steps

Adrian Stone from the University of Cape Town’s Energy Research Centre offers his thoughts on the initial network meeting for the project:

The Supporting Sub-Saharan Africa’s Municipalities with Sustainable Energy Transitions (SAMSET) project’s first network meeting was held in beautiful Tanzania at the end of October 2013. SAMSET is a essentially a collaborative effort between people in very different places with quite different skill sets and backgrounds looking at the ‘wicked’ problem of sustainable energy use in cities. Not just any cities but some of the fastest growing cities in human history. Recently the annual lecture of the South African Academy of Engineers quoted Horst Rittel’s 40 year old definition of wicked problems, “The kinds of problems that planners deal with – societal problems – are inherently different from the problems that scientists and perhaps some classes of engineers deal with. Planning problems are inherently wicked.” City scale problems are of course essentially planning problems.

The Energy Research Centre’s input to the study is mainly around energy system modelling which perhaps has limited potential to actually solve this wicked problem of sustainable energy use in the face of massive and growing demand but is important for laying down a foundation of solid science for decision makers. The country partners that will be working with us from Ghana and Uganda are respectively economists and architects, as yet unfamiliar with the tools, so we anticipated a challenge in initiating collaboration across disciplines. The meeting of engineers, economists and architects however proved to be quite fruitful and a wealth of useful data and insights were presented that lay a good foundation for proceeding with model building in 2014. The first network meeting, from our perspective, was therefore very successful in letting teams get to know one another, show their strengths and start colouring in some perspective on the nature of the problem and its challenges.

SAMSET: An Imperative Project for Africa

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Simon Bawakyillenuo and Innocent K. Agbelie of the University of Ghana offer their thoughts on the project.

Designing, testing and evaluating a knowledge exchange framework to facilitate sustainable energy transition among Sub-Sahara African cities and municipalities could not have come at a better time taking into account the proliferation of urban centres in most African countries and their accompanying weak structures. As one of the partners of SAMSET project, Ghana will benefit immensely through learning and sharing lessons with the other SAMSET project countries in Africa (South Africa and Uganda) in a bid to build a formidable sustainable energy transition path.

The predominance of wood fuel in the energy consumption mix of Ghana, coupled with inefficient charcoal processing and cooking technologies have the propensity to wreck more havoc on the already depleted forest cover in the country in the absence of sustainability measures. Additionally, the over-reliance on the Akosombo hydro-power plant, which is susceptible to climate change and climate variability, necessitates a paradigm shift that will embrace the use of alternative energy sources such as new renewable energy technologies (solar, wind, bioenergy, etc.). In this regard, institutional strengthening and capacity building as well as national sensitization are very imperative for the provision of a holistic solution to these problems. The roles, expertise and experiences of Sustainable Energy Africa (SEA), Durham University, University College London (UCL) as well as the Gamos, who are all partners of the SAMSET project are sine qua non in facilitating the development of a practical knowledge framework, which will enhance the mainstreaming of clean energy technologies into the development plans of various cities and municipalities in Ghana.

The substantial progress already made by some municipalities in South Africa regarding the adoption of different forms of renewable energy technologies is a model worthy of emulation by other cities and municipalities in Africa. Significant among the factors underpinning this success are strong institutional arrangement and government support. Therefore, the process dynamics of SAMSET, which takes into account the involvement of relevant and enthusiastic stakeholders at selected municipalities, is indispensable in creating a platform that will fortify the transition to sustainable energy practices in cities and municipalities in Ghana and others in Sub-Sahara Africa.

Why is Energy an Important Focus in Sustainable Urbanisation?

A blog post from Sustainable Energy Africa’s Mark Borchers:

Urbanisation in Sub-Saharan Africa represents one of the significant global challenges of the day. Urbanisation rates are high and capacity to manage this is often close to non-existent amongst urban governments. The result is usually a steady decline in welfare and inadequate economic development, as well as accelerating environmental degradation. The SAMSET project has chosen to work in the field of sustainable energy transitions as a means of supporting more sustainable urbanization.

Why energy? Energy per se is actually of no interest to anyone, it is the services that energy enables that are important for welfare (cooking, lighting, media, refrigeration etc), for economic activity (motors, electronics, process heat, communications etc), and for mobility (fuel for cars, taxis, trains), amongst others. Without energy, just about everything stops pretty much immediately. It is the life blood of urban areas. While greenhouse gas mitigation is unlikely to be a big motivator for change in most African countries into the medium term, welfare, resource efficiency and environmental degradation are acknowledged as being critically important factors in urban sustainability. Energy has an important role in all of these. Access to adequate and modern energy by the poor is important for household welfare, especially for the poor who often spend a disproportionate amount of time and money in meeting energy needs. Electricity access can support nutrition through access to refrigeration, and education through improved lighting. Energy efficiency is becoming increasingly important for economic health as costs rise and international pressures on global warming emissions increase. Many African countries are having to digest annual electricity price increases of between 20 and 80%! Energy is also often linked to local environmental degradation, for example from charcoal production.

Promoting welfare, resource efficiency and environmental sustainability through their energy dimensions is at the heart of SAMSET, however this demands that we look at just about every aspect of urban development. For example a more efficient future demands that buildings are designed differently – every inefficient ‘glass clad’ office block monstrosity we erect today commits us to an inefficient, expensive future for decades to come. Efficiency requires the use of different technologies, and that urban layout minimizes the need for extensive infrastructure to reduce costs and facilitate access, as well as to facilitate public transport in some form and reduce travel needs. There are many other approaches to consider as well, such as around awareness, capacity, standards and institutional frameworks, to name a few. But of course SAMSET cannot tackle everything, and one of our challenges in the next year is to decide where the most appropriate focus areas are in each partner country – where we can achieve most ‘bang for buck’.

Simon Batchelor of Gamos on the SAMSET Initial Network Meeting

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It’s great to be able to write the first blog for our new research project. Funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council UK (EPSRC), the Department for International Development UK (DFID) and the Department of Energy & Climate Change UK (DECC), the SAMSET project will Support Sub-Saharan Africa’s Municipalities with Sustainable Energy Transitions.

Starting in October 2013, the partners met for an inaugural and planning workshop in Tanzania in early November.  Led by UCL (University College London), the principal investigator was represented by his co-investigator Dr Xavier Lemaire. I am sure the team will be introduced one by one as we fill this blog, but in brief all the partners were represented at the meeting: Sustainable Energy Africa (SEA), Uganda Martyrs University (UMU), University of Ghana (UGU), Energy Research Centre (ERC) – University of Cape Town, Durham University and ourselves, Gamos.

As suggested by the title the project is to “design, test, and evaluate a knowledge exchange framework to facilitate the implementation of an effective sustainable energy transition in Africa’s Sub-Saharan urban areas”, and includes a strong action research component which involves close partnering with six cities in three African countries (two each in Ghana, Uganda and South Africa). In addition to our internal planning, we started our action research by dovetailing our meeting with the Local Climate Solutions for Africa 2013 organised by International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI).

ICLEI had convened over 400 local government representatives mainly from Africa to discuss the implications of Climate change, and local climate solutions. This gave us a fantastic opportunity to consult our local government colleagues, and test our hypothesis against the realities of day to day life. Indeed the conference was co-hosted by Local Governments for Sustainability and the City of Dar es Salaam, and it was the various members of the City of Dar es Salaam that brought a grounded reality to much of the discussion.  The mayor of Dar es Salaam explained in an eloquent way the challenges of a city that has infrastructure challenges and “spillover effects (relocation site), mobilizing public participation (Community Infrastructure Upgrading Program), local adoption of initiatives (Dar Rapid Transit), and capturing unplanned/informal areas (waste and waste-water sectors).