Tag Archives: Developing Countries

Smaller African cities need sustainable energy intervention

Originally posted on The Conversation, Louise Tait from the University of Cape Town Energy Research Centre writes on sustainable urban planning and energy, and the SAMSET Project’s role in supporting sustainable energy development in developing world cities.

Africa is experiencing a massive flow of people into urban areas. This is happening in major urban centres such as Lagos, Accra and Dar es Salaam as well as in smaller and secondary cities. The pace at which this urban growth is happening inevitably puts strain on city authorities. The supply of services and developing infrastructure is vital for human and economic development.

But the evidence base to support forward planning remains scarce for most cities. In its absence, cities run the risk of infrastructural lock-ins to systems that are unable to accommodate their growth sustainably.

Cities with high concentrations of people and economic activities are major sites of energy demand. Africa contributes very little to global climate change today. But future growth must be managed sustainably. If the emissions of developing country cities increase similar to many western cities today, catastrophic climate change will be unavoidable.

The SAMSET project

Supporting African Municipalities in Sustainable Energy Transitions, or SAMSET, is a four-year project that commenced in 2013. Its aim was to address sustainable energy transitions in African cities. It provides practical planning and implementation support to municipalities to manage future energy planning in a sustainable manner.

The project involves six cities in Ghana, Uganda and South Africa. The cities were Ga East and Awutu Senya East in Ghana, Kasese and Jinja in Uganda and Cape Town and Polokwane in South Africa. Research and support organisations in each country and the UK were involved as well.

Secondary and smaller cities are the main focus for support. These cities are also experiencing massive social and economic expansions. But they typically have less capacity to cope. Despite their significance as current and future sites of energy demand, they receive much less research and funding focus.

Secondary cities such as Uganda’s Kasese traditionally lack the research or funding to make sustainable energy transitions.

Developing an evidence base to support planning

The first phase of the project involved developing an evidence base to support planning and future implementation of sustainable energy interventions. Locally relevant planning tools are essential. There are very few studies investigating and modelling the energy systems of African cities. South Africa is a notable exception.

An urban energy system refers to all the flows of different energy resources, such as petrol, diesel, electricity, wood and charcoal in a city. It records where resources are produced or imported into an area and where they are consumed in different sectors. Such information can help cities better understand which sectors are major consumers and identify inefficiencies. It also helps identify where opportunities for energy efficiency and new technologies may lie, especially those associated with improved economic and welfare effects.

Much of how we understand urban energy systems is based on cities in western and developed countries. But many cities in Africa challenge assumptions about economic development trajectories and spatial arrangements that may be implicit in energy modelling approaches which are based on developed country experiences.

SAMSET modelled the urban energy systems of each of these cities using the Long-range Energy Alternatives Planning model. It was developed by the Stockholm Environment Institute. This model records all energy consumption and production in each sector of an economy. For example the household, commercial, industrial and transport sectors are all recorded. It is a useful planning tool because it projects the growth of energy systems until 2030 under different scenarios. This helps cities understand the future impacts of different investment and planning decisions now.

For SAMSET, universities in each country undertook primary data collection on sectoral energy demand and supply. A baseline model and range of scenarios were then collaboratively developed with local research partners and municipalities.

The project aimed to develop an evidence base to serve as a tool for local decision-makers. Also for further collaborative energy strategy development and to prioritise the implementing of options for the next phases. The scenarios have therefore attempted the following:

  • Through stakeholder engagement, to take into account governance systems.
  • Existing infrastructural constraints and opportunities.
  • Aligning with other development imperatives.

Value of the process

The project has served to introduce to city and local planners the use of energy models. It also attempted to set up the foundation for future development of energy modelling exercises and its applications. Collaborating to collect data, discuss key energy issues, and identify interventions are highly valuable to local stakeholders.

The process was instrumental in generating an understanding of energy planning. For some of municipalities, this was the first time consideration has been given to energy as a municipal function.

The modelling process acts as a strategic entry point to build interest and support for the project with municipal stakeholders. It also provides a useful platform and tool to engage around long-term planning and the implications of different actions. An example is infrastructural lock-in to emissions and energy intensive growth paths.

Value of the outputs

SAMSET is making an important knowledge contribution to the dynamics of sustainable energy transitions in African cities. Such research is of course made difficult by the data scarcity typical at a sub-national level. But this is merely reflective of the lack of financial investment to date.

The local data collection processes in this project have been vital in building capacity and generating awareness around urban energy systems. Developing new data and building knowledge of urban energy transitions in the global south is critically important. It has had a strong focus on establishing a network of both north-south and south-south practitioners to support more work in this arena.

The modelling has had to account for several distinct characteristics. These include:

  • The informal economy
  • Own energy generation through diesel and gasoline generators
  • The high reliance on biomass
  • Variations in urban forms and issues such as suppressed demand for energy services.

This project has also made important methodological contributions to modelling urban energy systems in developing countries.

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Why Should I Invest, It Doesn’t Produce Extra Income?

Simon Batchelor from Gamos offers his thoughts on energy investment and the concept of “temporariness”.

In his last blog, my colleague Mark Borchers from Sustainable Energy Africa (SEA), highlighted some points from a new book, Africa’s Urban Revolution

The point about attitude to living in a city and investment particular caught my eye.  He said:- “In many urban areas a significant proportion of the population regard their homes as elsewhere, and they subsist in the town or city and send remittances back to their homes, where their heart remains. So while they are present in the city, they are not investing in it. It is unclear what this does to the local economy and the tax base and service delivery demands on municipalities.”

It reminded me of a report I read on the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), created by the International Housing Coalition back in 2007.   MCC at that time was an initiative of US foreign Assistance, and was championing a new approach to development assistance.  They were (I have no idea whether they still are – perhaps someone could help me in the comments section), very focused on Economic Rate of Returns (ERRs) i.e. the increases in income or value added as a result of a project.  The report focused on housing projects and asked the question whether the benefit of improved housing in urban situations could truly be measured by increases in income?    In the same way that the extract from the book suggests that people may not invest in their housing and ‘situation’ because it doesn’t necessarily generate more income for them (preferring presumably to send home remittances that support schooling and agricultural production); so too in this report, the donors and development assistance might also question investment because it doesn’t give an  immediate ‘extra income’ return.

They note that “The ‘benefits’ of well-designed urban and shelter reforms can have repercussions not only on the incomes of the individuals served, but also on the larger economy. There are large positive externalities to improved shelter in terms of health and life expectancy.”  However, the report argued – these benefits may not be captured in traditionally calculated ERRs.  They say “Urban shelter and infrastructure investments may indeed have direct economic benefits such as an increase in the rental value of housing, significant improvements in health, or increases in the productive capacity of the household……investments in urban areas can make non-trivial contributions to economic growth from a macro-economic perspective by adding to productive capacity of the city as a whole. Such benefits are also virtually impossible to enter in an ERR calculation.” (My emphasis).

Isnt this the same calculation those families and households are making?  They know instinctively that if they improve their urban situation, they will have a better quality of life and maybe increase their productive capacity in the longer term – but they also calculate that it won’t directly increase their income, and any ‘investment’ in their housing (or energy demand) has such a long return life (and they might not be around that long), that it is better to send money home to invest in the family’s rural ‘shamba’ or plot.   Indeed, what is interesting to me is that the MCC came up with the same conclusion.  The report says that “in practice many of the projects that have been approved are rural projects. These projects have met MCC’s ERR criteria.”

Mark seems to have highlighted an important point about short term thinking or ‘temporariness’ – something we need to keep in mind as we explore energy investments in urban areas as a part of SAMSET.

SAMSET News – June 2014 – Second Network Meeting

Xavier Lemaire from UCL summarises the second SAMSET Network Meeting.

The second SAMSET network meeting took place in Ghana on the 14-16 May 2014. During this meeting, representatives from each municipality partner of the project have described the situation of their town and their expectations for this research-action project.

The six African municipalities – Cape Town and Polokwane (South Africa), Kasese and Jinja (Uganda), Ga East and Awutu Senya East (Ghana) – tend to face considerable difficulties to exert control on land use due to important internal and international migration combined with an important internal population growth rate.

Parnter Municipalities Map

In all countries, power supply does not cope with the demand and power cuts can be frequent which raises the question of the effectiveness of demand-side management policies; some municipalities also face constraints in terms of supply of water which will become even more acute in the near future; waste management can be an important unresolved issue; traffic congestion is also widespread due to the lack of public transport and cannot be solved by just implementing more infrastructure.

It was also emphasized during this meeting how data used by municipalities were inaccurate and misleading because of the importance of the informal sector, and that municipalities were always behind the fast changing situation on the ground. With yearly budgets planned according to the situation at a given time, but implemented with delays, flexibility in planning procedures was needed to allow the taking into account of changes that have occurred in the recent past, and not just to factor the growth rate of the municipality.

It has been underlined that data to be collected for the research did not need to be complete at the beginning of the project, because data collection was an on-going process and that data will get better once they have been started to be collected.

Each of the municipalities have taken the opportunity of this meeting to detail their specific issues and how they try to deal with them, particularly detailing and starting to compare their approach in terms of planning and electrification. After these first exchanges, further network meetings will help to design and implement effective strategies.

SAMSET Team

Members of the SAMSET Team in Ghana, May 2014

“Africa’s Urban Revolution” and African Urban Challenges

Mark Borchers on the launch of a new book, “Africa’s Urban Revolution”, the insights gained from the launch, and their relevance to the SAMSET project.

I was at the launch of the book Africa’s Urban Revolution recently. It has contributions from various authors associated with the African Centre for Cities (ACC) at the University of Cape Town, and covers a range of topics. Even though it does not have an energy focus, I found both the content of the book (tho I have just read a bit of it so far) and the discussions at the launch very interesting for the work on sustainable urban energy transitions which we are engaged in.

The presenters, Edgar Pieterse (director of the ACC) and Caroline Wanjiku Khato (School of Architecture and Planning at the University of Witwatersrand) emphasised that urbanisation in Africa is an issue of global concern given the pace at which it is occurring and the severe lack of capacity of authorities to meet the associated service demands. This we know, but I found it interesting that mainstream academia knows it too! In addition, African urbanisation is distinct from any other such process elsewhere in the world, often rendering existing approaches to urbanisation issues not useful. In no particular order, the following challenges struck me as potentially relevant:

– In many urban areas a significant proportion of the population regard their homes as elsewhere, and they subsist in the town or city and send remittances back to their homes, where their heart remains. So while they are present in the city, they are not investing in it. It is unclear what this does to the local economy and the tax base and service delivery demands on municipalities.
– In the absence of municipal capacity, informal social and economic systems can be quite strong, for example including land registers and social support systems, often via the church. Given that official capacity is unlikely to change drastically in the medium-term, such ingenuity and creativity may be one of the foundations for sustainable urbanisation in Africa rather than relying on more formal structures and systems.
– The urban agenda is often not high on national government’s priority list, sometimes because opposition parties are often able to first gain support in bigger urban areas, thus not endearing such to the ruling party. In one case, national government apparently effectively set up a department to run the capital city, thus ‘hollowing out’ the politically distinct local government’s power.
– Informality is sometimes regarded as an aberration to be rid of by national government. One presenter described how he was invited to the African Development Bank forum for minister’s in 2006, where urban issues were on the agenda for the first time (!). One Housing Minister, who had recently displaced half a million informal dwellers in their capital city through demolishing their settlements, received a standing ovation when he justified this act on the basis of ‘restoring the dignity’ of the city. So the plight of the poor in informal settlements may not always receive enthusiastic national support.

The above snippets obviously only present a partial picture, but some of them are useful in flagging that different players can have very different perspectives on issues, and we need to be sensitive to these. I know in the South African context all of the above are relevant to a greater or lesser degree in different places.

There’s lots more useful information in the book if you are interested.

Book information: Africa’s Urban Revolution. Edited by Susan Parnell and Edgar Pieterse of the University of Cape Town African Centre for Cities. Published by UCT Press in 2014. ISBN: 978 177582 076 5

Smaller Municipalities Today are Potential Mega Metropolises of Tomorrow: The Need for Climate Change Resilient Approaches

Simon Bawakyillenuo and Innocent Komla Agbelie from the University of Ghana on the recent IPCC “Key Roles of Cities in Climate Resilience” report.

Terence Creamer’s article entitled New report highlights key role of cities in building climate resilience[1] sheds light on the report ‘Climate Change 2014: Impact, Adaptation and Vulnerability’ produced by the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group II. Quoted in the article, during a post-publication briefing, Dr. Debra Roberts, one of the authors of the ‘Urban Areas’ chapter of the report, warned that “urban areas are at risk and vulnerable to climate change simply because they have so many eggs in the basket in urban areas: the majority of people now live in cities; the bulk of our infrastructure is in cities”. Dr. Roberts noted further that “cities offer us one of the single greatest opportunities for global adaptation, if we get our act together around urban development and any step taken to improve the resilience of urban areas has the potential to greatly increase the global ability to adapt to climate change”. Adding a different dimension, Dr. Bob Scholes, an ecologist at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research Systems cautioned that adaptation to climate change alone would have limitations, hence, the need to combine it with “early and aggressive mitigation actions” to tackle not only “how much the climate changes, but also how fast it changes”

Indeed, evidence abounds today, manifesting that cities such as Chicago in the U.S.A, Leicester in the UK, and Ekurhuleni in South Africa have made huge investments in retrofit programmes for public buildings as a way of reducing energy use, since energy consumption is a key driver of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions. Other innovations such as the Bus Rapid Transit system in Mexico City, biogas-powered buses in Lille, France and the solar-powered municipal bus fleet in Adelaide, Australia are all green strategies being introduced into city structures to enhance the mitigation of GHG emission as well as improve the resilience of these urban areas. The adoption of these clean and efficient technologies by the cities, which serve the dual purposes of climate change mitigation and adaption strategies are in sync with Dr. Debra Roberts’ views. Since cities are the highest contributors of GHG emissions, strong leadership and institutional set-ups are required to initiate innovative approaches that will embrace the dual purposes of adaptation to climate change and mitigation of GHG emissions. While existing mega cities will need to reorient their strategies and approaches, the lessons and opportunities, perhaps for local authorities of smaller cities and municipalities are that, they can leapfrog the fundamental mistakes of mega cities by pursuing development agenda that will involve meticulous planning, adoption of policies that will be clean and efficient technology driven as well as improving resilience to climate change.

It goes without saying that today’s mega cities are more complicated, structurally and institutionally compared to smaller cities; which therefore make it difficult to apply the same technologies, processes and scientific approaches to tackling what may seem homogeneous problems facing the two types of cities. Thus, a more proactive approach to building climate conscious cities and municipalities is the need for them to adopt adaptation and mitigation measures that are within their means, resource-wise. While mega cities need to integrate more climate friendly technologies into their existing structures in order to upgrade them to climate compatible levels, smaller cities and municipalities, having not developed complicated structures can just begin developing their structures with climate compatible elements, being mainstreamed in them.

The SAMSET project’s approach of supporting municipalities from three countries with varied setups in terms of size, structure and institutional arrangements, with sustainable energy transition paths, is laudable in building climate resilience in the selected municipalities and, therefore speaks to the views of Dr. Debra Roberts. The selected smaller municipalities on the SAMSET project, which are considered alongside other larger cities, are obviously potential mega cities in the future. Thus, these smaller municipalities are well placed in shaping their development trajectories in the right directions and protecting their fragile infrastructure by drawing lessons from the bigger municipalities that have faced numerous climate change issues. In effect, the SAMSET project has an enviable opportunity of impacting positively on climate change resilient approaches of all partner municipalities especially, the smaller cities through building the capacity of their personnel to come up with informed decisions, strategies and approaches to develop clean and efficient technologies.

[1]Available at: http://www.engineeringnews.co.za/article/new-report-highlights-key-role-of-cities-in-building-climate-resilience-2014-03-31

Urban Energy Transitions – Uganda

Prof. Simon Marvin from Durham University reports on the Durham SAMSET team’s recent work in Uganda.

During March we undertook initial fieldwork in Kampala, Uganda as part of our work on developing a knowledge exchange framework for urban energy transitions in African cities [1]. The work had three main components. i): a ‘netmapping’ exercise to review the institutional landscape of the energy sector with local and national policy makers. ii) meetings with agents of local energy transitions from the NGO and private sector. iii) And dialogue with our Uganda partners on understanding the case study cities and sensitising the knowledge exchange framework to the local context. Three sets of issues emerged that will be important in shaping our future work programme in SAMSET

Restricted Capacity of Municipalities to Shape Energy Transitions

We met the Municipal Town Clerks – the equivalent of a Chief executive in UK – from our two case study cities.  These municipalities have few formal responsibilities for energy issues with policy making priorities and capacity being exercised at a national level – through the energy ministry and the actions of an unbundled energy system of generation, transmission and distribution. Consequently, there was very limited capacity in the local authority to focus on energy issues – with only one member of staff employed to deal with all environmental issues – including working on forests, wastewater etc.  While municipalities were concerned about a range of energy issues in their cities including high costs, disruption, health and air quality plus access of households to formal energy system  – there are few formal mechanisms for them to interact with, or shape, the energy system.

By-passing Municipal and National Context

Mapping the urban energyscape revealed a wide range of local energy initiatives around lighting, fuel-efficient stoves and a range of decentralised technologies.  But these responses were strongly dependent on the actions of external intermediaries – NGOs and private companies  – who worked with local households and community-based organisations to develop local energy initiatives.  What was striking about these was the ways in which these responses tended to connect to international financial mechanisms, agencies and particular national contexts involving private companies, universities and NGOs to a particular local context – household, sewage works etc. There was strong sense that these initiatives largely by-passed the municipal and national contexts within which they were inserted according to external priorities – a form of transnational governance of local energy.

“District Champion” Energy Response.

While the energyscape was incredibly fragmented there was one example of an energy strategy at a municipal scale in Kasese that WWF has chosen as the “ Champion District”[2].  The imitative involves working with a cross-sectoral partnership designed to accelerate energy access for off grid communities through cooking and lighting. A number of different pathways are being experimented with including working with not-for profit NGOs and commercial models.  A private solar provider had report significant up lift in monthly solar installations from 2 up to 400 a month after the scheme provided enhanced access to the market through CBOs.  In contrast an efficient stove NGO reported that the scheme had been less successful in providing access to households.

Solar Lighting in Kasese

Solar lighting in Kasese © WWF-Norge/Will Boase

[1] http://samsetproject.net

[2] http://wwf.panda.org/who_we_are/wwf_offices/uganda/

Telling Our Own Sustainability Stories

Melusile Ndlovu from SEA offers his thoughts on the importance on relating sustainability and climate change issues to everyday experiences.

Sustainability discussions or agenda (for lack of a better word) can be far removed from many people’s daily realities at times. This dawned on me when I was listening to “educated” colleagues, in a bar, talking about the climate change phenomena. Needless to say my friend, a climate change practitioner, in his attempt to drive the point home kept on referring to polar bears, melting ice caps, and all the humdrum stuff that you see on news channels. However, this seemed far removed from everyone’s day-to-day existence.

I once had an interesting discussion with my grandmother that somehow changed my thinking around sustainability and climate change specifically. Briefly about my granny; she lives deep in rural Zimbabwe, I say deep because if she wants to visit the nearest town she has to walk quite a long distance to get to the “nearest” bus station. That is to catch the only bus that passes through her village once a day very early in the morning around 4am. Our discussion might have started off on what the villagers expected to harvest from their fields. She mourned the shift in seasons that she felt was happening and could affect their crop outputs. You see, rain is very important to them as small-scale subsistence farmers with no access to complex irrigation systems. Her argument was that there is something happening with our climate, we didn’t put a name to “this something”. I tried arguing that what they were experiencing might be one of the normal climatic cycles (a drought year). But who am I to argue with an old lady who has seen more drought years than I? She went on to give me details of the past drought years they had lived through and that what is happening now is different from what she had experienced before. Seeing that I was losing the argument, I asked her if she has been to a climate change workshop in the village. Her response was that she had never been to one and hadn’t been listening to radio discussions on this topic. She was adamant that she knew what she was talking about (that “something”).

My point is that while the topic of climate change and energy in cities is gaining resonance, the question might be how to tell our stories in ways that resonate with a broader populace given that most people in cities have many other things to worry about and climate change is something that might be far removed from them. Municipal officials might feel this is not an important issue to them as they are faced with other service delivery issues. And in some cases this might be seen as an unfunded mandate but the question still remains on how to communicate the sustainability message in a way that resonates with most people. Therefore, the Samset project might have to find hooks within our partner municipalities i.e. identify the most pressing issues within a given locale and try to locate linkages with energy and sustainability.