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.

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