Monthly Archives: January 2017

Urban and Rural Energy Access: “Leapfrogging”?

Mark Borchers from SEA writes on the recent context of SAMSET work in the wider space of urban and rural energy access in the developing world.

Christoph Frei, Secretary General of the World Energy Council[1] recently noted that “only three years ago, when suggesting to energy professionals that there could be ‘leap frogging’ in energy similar to what has happened in the mobile phone industry, the response would have suggested little understanding of energy realities. We now see tens of thousands of direct household solutions being delivered to rural Africa without a formal supply chain and in the absence of any energy infrastructure backbone. What does leapfrogging mean, if not this?”

…and…

“In many rural contexts in Africa, renewables are providing an engine for local development and poverty reduction.  Of the two-thirds of people in Africa without access to power, 80% live outside urban centres. A mix of off-grid renewable power instalments could be the key to electrifying rural Africa with consumers buying power locally and paying via their mobile phone.”

The potential of energy delivery modes “without a formal supply chain and in the absence of any energy infrastructure backbone” that Frei speaks of is indeed exciting. This largely bypasses the cumbersome processes of central institutions with their inefficiencies and mixed agendas.

He also notes: “For the energy sector, unprecedented speed of change and new realities pose a wide range of challenges and new opportunities for companies and governments who are on a high-stakes journey to adapt their business models and policy frameworks.”

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Energy leapfrogging does not only apply to rural areas, direct benefits to the local economy can be seen in large cities such as Kampala, above. Image: Daniel Kerr

Frei importantly reinforces the perception that the energy sector is changing rapidly, and that the old way of doing things – where centralized planning and large utilities are the key players – needs revisiting, as it is unlikely to be the way of the future.  Yet most national governments and utilities in Sub-Saharan Africa seem to be moving into the future as if this is not the case, with the potential for stranded assets and business failure. Surely new approaches and business models need to be explored more urgently.

Secondly, Frei emphasizes rural energy access in Africa. This rural focus is clearly important, and it suits national governments whose political support is generally rural-based (opposition movements tend to grow from urban areas).  But this traditional focus on rural access can unduly overshadow the importance of urban energy access. Looking at access to electricity, although most unelectrified households are currently rural (around 550 million people are unelectrified), urban electrification rates are not high – often well below 50% – and currently around 150 million urban dwellers have no access to electricity[2]. Between 2035 and 2040 Africa’s population is expected to become predominately urban[3].  Modelling undertaken by Sustainable Energy Africa as part of the SAMSET project[4] indicates that the future energy demand of Sub-Saharan Africa is likely to be substantially urban, with the urban share of total demand rising to over 75% by 2040 (see Figure).  We should not overlook that there are huge opportunities to boost access to modern energy in urban areas. It is in urban areas that populations are closer to infrastructure, more dense, with higher average incomes and where delivery systems can be more cost-effective.  It is in urban areas also where the very poor can be the most destitute, with reduced access even to traditional biomass energy.   It seems justifiable to encourage a parallel focus on rural and urban access in a sector where ‘access’ currently seems almost entirely synonymous with ‘rural access’.

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Figure: Urban sub-Saharan energy demand over time showing Business-as-Usual, Universal Access and Energy Efficiency scenarios. Total sub-Saharan Africa energy demand (urban and rural) is also shown (Source: Modelling the Urban Energy Future of Sub-Saharan Africa, Sustainable Energy Africa, 2015).

One more point worth considering regarding the urban-rural population dynamic: At a recent course SAMSET was running for municipal officials and urban energy practitioners, a lecturer asked “how many of you are first generation urban, or still consider your ‘home’ to be in a rural area?”.  The majority raised their hand. There may be various implications of this characteristic: urban-rural remittances are likely to remain common into the medium-term, which could facilitate rural energy access with small decentralized technologies such as PV being funded from urban earners for their rural homes and families.  On the other hand remittances may reduce investment in urban areas, which may impact to some extent on urban economies and possibly also the willingness to invest in urban energy infrastructure.  Let’s keep an eye on how this dynamic plays itself out over the coming years.

[1] World Energy Council Secretary General reflects on key highlights of 2016. Africa Energy Indaba Press Release, 12 January 2017

[2] Calculation from IEA’s African Energy Outlook 2014 electrification database.

[3] African Urban Futures 2016, Bello-Schünemann and Aucoin; State of African Cities 2014, UN Habitat

[4] Modelling the Urban Energy Future of Sub-Saharan Africa, Sustainable Energy Africa, 2015. www.africancityenergy.org

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SDG 7 and SE4All: The role of Sub-Saharan Local Governments in Supporting Sustainable Energy Goals

This blog explores the role of Sub-Saharan African local governments can play in supporting the SDG energy-related goals and SE4All goals.  It suggests that they play a key role in this area given that they are often at the forefront of service delivery and end-user interaction. Yet overall the capacity and resource needs of local governments on the sub-continent remain under-prioritised by national governments, international development aid agendas, and the global research community.

The goals of SDG7 and SE4All are closely aligned, but there are also other SDG goals that are relevant to sustainable urban energy.  The SDG7 targets are:

  • By 2030, ensure universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services
  • By 2030, increase substantially the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix
  • By 2030, double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency
  • By 2030, enhance international cooperation to facilitate access to clean energy research and technology
  • By 2030, expand infrastructure and upgrade technology for supplying modern and sustainable energy services for all

In addition, relevant goals from SDG11 (sustainable cities) include access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems, enhancing the capacity for integrated and sustainable human settlement planning, and addressing the impact of poor air quality and municipal waste. All of these are closely linked to sustainable energy futures.

Many Sub-Saharan African countries have, or intend to develop, plans whereby the SDG7 and SE4All goals can be pursued.  For example both Ghana and Uganda have such plans (Ghana SE4All Action Plan 2012, Uganda SE4All Action Agenda 2015), although it is notable that such key energy planning documents do not mention the transport sector – a major and fast growing energy consumer and emissions contributor. South Africa does not appear to have specific SE4All planning documents, although many initiatives exist in the country which are in pursuit of these objectives.

Numerous important sustainable energy initiatives are substantially linked to, or dependent on, national processes and mandates, or are best handled at a centralized national level (e.g. national power grid capacity upgrading, or changing regulatory frameworks around local generation).  Nevertheless, much lies within the mandate or direct influence of local governments, and globally there is an increasing emphasis on local players taking a stronger role in sustainable energy issues, as has been reflected at the recent COP gatherings in Paris and Marakesh.  In this regard, the work of the SAMSET project (Supporting sub-Saharan African Municipalities with Sustainable Energy Transitions) indicates that local governments on the sub-continent, and local research organisations, can play an important role in the following areas.

Local facilitation of household energy programmes which are driven by national or other players, such as cookstove, efficient appliance and electrification programmes: this includes collecting and providing information and data on needs and opportunities in local area; participating in implementation planning, community awareness raising and communication, and monitoring once implemented (all of these are best done at a local level); conducting research on impact and methodology improvements (Has it improved welfare? How could it have been better implemented? Costs vs benefits? Subsidy needs and justification? etc), and conducting research on impact on local small businesses (e.g. charcoal producers and retailers, appliance shops, cookstove manufacturers etc).

Promotion or facilitation of renewable energy programmes which need to be at least partially locally based (which may be driven locally or by national or other players), such as biogas, rooftop grid-connected solar PV, and solar water heating initiatives: this includes identification of local biogas opportunities (e.g. abattoir) and facilitating feasibility studies; engaging with power utility around local grid-connected solar PV pilot projects; engaging with local businesses (e.g. solar water heater, solar PV suppliers) regarding how to facilitate rollout and improve affordability; awareness raising and community engagement, and monitoring of implementation; research on impact and methodology improvements to maximize benefits; promotion and advocacy around fast-emerging options such as rooftop grid-connected solar PV; direct procurement of solar PV streetlights, and undertaking landfill gas feasibility studies and subsequent implementation pursuit.

Building energy efficiency promotion (local government often has direct mandates here): this includes developing local bylaws for commercial building energy efficiency; awareness raising around residential building energy efficiency (appropriate window use, shading etc), and organising training of building sector to improve ability for energy efficient construction.

Industrial energy efficiency promotion: including encouraging/incentivising audits (e.g. link with donor EE programmes), and facilitating training and awareness programmes locally.

Bringing sustainable energy concerns into spatial planning and transport planning: this includes introducing densification, corridor development, mixed use and other approaches into spatial plans; bringing tribal authorities (land owners) and municipal officials together in developing a shared vision around spatial futures, and researching and modeling the impact of different spatial and transport interventions on future energy, cost, social welfare, and economic activity – and engage with regional and national transport planning processes to introduce more optimal approaches.

Developing a more conducive enabling environment for implementation: this includes linking with support/donor programmes around supporting sustainable energy, and identifying how collaboration could work; researching and providing local data on energy status, problems, and opportunities; researching and communicating updates on implementation status as programmes are implemented, and evaluate their impact; capacity building of local government staff; programmatic partnerships between local government and local research institutions; developing networks amongst local governments for lessons exchange and mutual support, and developing links between local, regional and national players to facilitate integrated planning and coordinated approaches

Helping clarify the role of local government in sustainable energy, and identify effective methodologies to support them in fulfilling this potential: this includes researching the process of local government involvement and role in sustainable energy, and assess their challenges in this regard, researching approaches to supporting local government to engage effectively with sustainable energy promotion, and disseminate experience in this regard and potential for local government in promoting sustainable energy at workshops, conferences, meetings etc.

The role of local governments and local research organisations in moving to a more sustainable energy future as envisioned by the SDGs is clearly substantial. This has implications for development aid resource allocation and research funding channels.  Importantly, it is not enough to just fund research – a dual approach of partnerships with researchers who align directly with the needs of local governments, as well as a strong focus on real capacity building of local governments is important (note that information dissemination is not capacity building).  Programmes such as SAMSET are working in this area, but the needs are currently far greater than the enabling resources, by an order of magnitude at least.