Tag Archives: Energy Transitions

Energy Poverty in Peri–urban Communities in Polokwane, South Africa: Part 1 – Identifying the Issues

Hlengiwe Radebe from SEA writes on energy poverty issues affecting peri-urban communities in Polokwane Municipality.

According to Statistics South Africa (StatsSA) Polokwane municipality, capital of the Limpopo Province in the north of South Africa and a SAMSET partner municipality, is 40% urban and 60% rural. In South Africa, most rural areas have basic service delivery challenges, and are still under the authority of traditional leaders. Part of the function of traditional leaders is to allocate land for new settlement. This traditionally-owned land does not have a typical market value and is usually far cheaper than land in urban areas.

Although 60% of land is described as rural in Polokwane, parts of the rural areas in Polokwane are transitioning from rural to urban areas (peri-urban), presenting a particular set of challenge to urban development. Some degree of agriculture still persists, but most people residing here are already dependent on urban jobs or grant payments. As part of urban municipalities, these areas have access to electricity, piped water and what one may call semi-adequate infrastructure. However, as ‘traditional land’ households are not part of the municipal rates and taxes system, presenting fiscal challenges to municipalities providing the services. Given that the land cost is very low, there is a strong incentive for the working municipal residents to obtain land and build in these outlying, but semi-serviced areas, rather than purchase expensive land in the urban areas. This does not lead to efficient settlement structure and increases the cost of servicing residents, including with adequate public transport.

An example of a house in Dikgale (Image: Alberts, M. et al (2015))

A good example of this situation is Ga Dikgale community in Polokwane municipality. Ga Dikgale has a population of 36000 residents in 7000 households. Dikgale is found approximately 40 kilometers north-east of Polokwane. The population lives in dwellings that range from shacks to brick houses. Mostly people are of Paedi ethnic group, all-African, and are an ageing population. The majority of the populace is economically disadvantaged in an area characterized by high unemployment rates, poor road infrastructure and poor service delivery. My visit to Dikgale brought back childhood memories – a sense of community where people could still walk to their neighbours and ask for salt or mealie meal.

A recent household energy survey (funded by Brot) conducted in partnership between Sustainable Energy Africa, University of Limpopo and Polokwane Municipality, covering 388 households in Dikgale, showed that 98% of households are electrified. The has been made possible by the South African government, that made a strategic decision to electrify all South African households both rural and urban, informal and formal, post the first democratic elections in 1994. This successful and globally leading National Electrification Programme was funded by national grants. As of 2016, according to Statistics South Africa, the South African government had electrified 91.1% households both in rural and urban areas although electrification rates in urban areas are significantly higher than in rural areas.

The survey revealed that electricity is indeed the primary energy source for household lighting, cooking and heating in most Dikgale households. Interestingly, in the area electricity is often referred to as “mabone” meaning light, as many households use the electricity for mostly lighting purposes. The survey indicated that wood is the secondary source of energy most commonly used for cooking, water and space heating. This is because households often run out of electricity due to lack of money, once their monthly Free-Basic Electricity (FBE) allowance provided by the municipality is used up. Other key energy challenges emerging from the survey in the area were:

  • Lack of awareness around the Free Basic Electricity grant: This grant promotes the Constitutional right of all South Africans to modern, safe energy services, and provides indigent households with the first 50 – 100 KWh free of charge (Eskom supplied areas are provided with 50KWh and the municipality supplied areas receive 100KWH). The survey indicated that, of all of the indigent households, far too few are registered to receive the FBE grant from the municipality;
  • Houses have no ceilings and corrugated iron roofs: this reduces the thermal performance of the house significantly. Houses without ceilings are colder in winter, where outdoor nighttime temperatures often drop to around zero degrees, and hotter in summer, where outdoor daytime temperatures of 30 degrees and above are common;
  • Lack of awareness around energy-saving options such as the ‘wonderbox’. A wonderbox, also commonly known as a ‘hot box’, is an insulating bag which holds the heat of the pot after boiling and thus reduces the amount of fuel needed to cook the meal, lowering energy costs. This works with most common meals, such as ‘pap’ (a traditional porridge made from mielie-meal), samp, beans, rice and stew. (Image: Marole Mathabatha)

Having identified the above challenges, Polokwane Municipality and other municipalities in similar situations can address the current energy needs of peri-urban communities more effectively. From the Dikgale household energy survey, it appears that alternative energy approaches can reduce costs, improve comfort levels and reduce the use of traditional and other problematic energy sources, with associated pollution and environmental degradation improvements. Even where FBE is delivered to indigent households, this is not enough to keep households going for a month. Alternative technologies such as solar lights, wonderbox, tshisa box (a 10 litre portable solar kettle) and solar cookers are some of the technologies that could benefit households. They may also create small business opportunities in the area. However, the past has taught us that community acceptance of such technologies thoroughly needed for any rollout to be successful. Social acceptance factors are not easily understood without trying them out in practice.

Access to modern, safe and reliable electricity is a key challenge in many African countries. Peri-urban areas can sometimes fall through the cracks – not being adequately addressed by either urban or rural service delivery programmes. Polokwane municipality, in partnership with Sustainable Energy Africa and a steering committee of key stakeholders, is pioneering a rollout of alternative services, starting with hot boxes that will be made locally as part of a small business development initiative. How Polokwane deals with these challenges and this pilot project could provide useful lessons for other municipalities in improving energy delivery to low income households.

Hot box locally produced by 5 young women from Ga Dikgale (Image: Hlengiwe Radebe)

3 of the 5 young women from Ga Dikgale running a small business producing hot boxes (Image: Hlengiwe Radebe)

Advertisements

SAMSET Releases a New Guide to Clean Energy Transitions for Sub Saharan Municipalities

Simon Batchelor from Gamos writes on the recently-released Guidelines to Clean Energy document for SAMSET.

As a part of our ongoing work with Sub Saharan Municipalities in Uganda and Ghana, the research team have brought together some basic information on clean energy transitions.  “GUIDELINES TO CLEAN ENERGY:- A PRACTICAL GUIDE FOR SUB SAHARAN AFRICAN MUNICIPALITIES (2017)”. The Guide is intended to help decision makers in Municipalities in Sub Saharan Africa to consider ways in which they could make their city utilize cleaner energy. Its foreword states “This manual has been designed for use by city officials and planners working in sub-Saharan Africa. It is a practical handbook, which identifies easy to achieve energy interventions that will save money (for cities, businesses and households), promote local economic development, and enhance the sustainable profile of a city. This manual is specifically aimed as a support tool to achieve the implementation of key interventions within municipalities across sub-Saharan Africa.”

The 200 page document starts with a call for cleaner energy. Its opening chapter draws on various sources to show how our ongoing use of fossil fuels is linked to climate change. The historical contribution of Sub Saharan Africa to global climate change is small compared to the developed countries, however over the next 30 years it will increase its contribution particularly if ‘Business as Usual’ is continued. The opening chapters discuss how this global problem is the responsibility of all, and how municipalities could take a decision to move towards clean energy that might contribute to climate change mitigation in the long term.

The guide, however, is titled ‘A Practical Guide’ and we felt it important to move quickly on from the macro picture of global challenges to the specifics of what a municipality might do. Each of the chapters has the same format –

  • An overview, which includes some basic description of technology and social change options;
  • The Case; which discusses how simple changes can make considerable differences
  • Potential for Rollout; discussing the realities of Sub Saharan African life and whether the technology could be introduced
  • Barriers to implementation (and effort to resolve); an attempt to anticipate barriers, and suggestions of what might be done
  • How to go about implementation; some suggestions for action
  • Case Studies; some Sub Saharan African case studies to illustrate the relevance and possibilities of the chapters subject.

Chapter 5 starts with Energy efficient lighting a technology that is relatively easy to implement. LED bulbs have become common and simple action ensuring they are available in the market and ‘encouraged’ among consumers can save significant amount of electricity (compared to older lamps). Chapter 6 broadens the picture to include energy efficient buildings.Ideally these need some design at the very start, but the chapter also makes suggestion for retrofitting that can lower energy consumption. Chapter 7 considers public transport. Vehicles can not only consume considerable amounts of fossil fuel, but create localized pollution. The chapter focuses on the possibilities of public transport as an alternative to everyone getting their own car. Chapter 8 considers cooking. While it may seem that municipalities have little to say about the choice of domestic cooking fuels, the ongoing use of biomass (charcoal) in urban areas contributes to local pollution, kitchen pollution and global pollution. Municipalities can undertake various strategies to assist consumers to move toward genuinely clean cooking.

Waste to energy in Chapter 9 is very much a municipality concern. Collection of waste is a challenge to many SSA municipalities, and the possibility of converting it to useful energy is worth consideration. Chapter 10 talks about Solar Photovoltaics. Solar PV has come down in price considerably over the last few years and this chapter discusses the possibilities – from solar farms contributing to the national grid, to mini and micro grids, to solar home systems.

Renewable purchase agreements are a policy tool that can encourage clean energy. Chapter 11 discusses these, pointing the municipality players to consider the policy instruments available in their country. Chapter 11 touches on carbon trading – this again is effectively a policy instrument that municipalities might consider using. And finally , a last chapter summaries but does not deal in depth, some ideas on Concentrated Solar Power, Wind Power and Solar Water Heaters.

The guide ends with a call to action, to share ideas with colleagues, and to take small steps that help us tread lightly on the earth. “We may have discussed many ideas, technologies, approaches, regulations, policies, feed in tariffs, low energy light bulbs, and energy efficient buildings among others, but ultimately consumption and sustainability come down to you. Humanity has a large footprint on this world and currently we are not treading lightly. We consume; we consume fossil fuel, we create so much impact that our climate is changing, we build cities that can be seen from space; we are heavy on the earth.”

Kampala CPD Course Plenary Sessions and Group Work – Days 2 – 5

The SAMSET Project hosted a continuing professional development course at Victoria University in Kampala, Uganda from the 7th – 11th November 2016. As shown in the previous post, the urban energy management issues present today in Kampala make the city an appropriate place to discuss the future of sustainable urban energy transitions.

wp_20161108_004

The Hon. Dr Chris Baryomunsi, Minister of State for Housing, addressing the opening of the CPD Course. Image: Daniel Kerr

The course was opened with an address from the Hon. Dr Chris Baryomunsi, who gave an address on the overarching issues facing urban Kampala today, include economic growth, population growth and land management. The first plenary day of the course focused on resource efficiency in energy planning and management in the urban sphere. The presentations on this day focused on the mandate that municipal officials have in the energy space (or lack thereof) and a focused discussion on the importance of data in energy planning, as well as case studies of successful initiatives in other Sub-Saharan African cities and the challenges they faced. The city of Cape Town was presented as a successful sustainable transitions case study, with the presentation from Sumaya Mohamed from the City of Cape Town Energy Authority detailing a number of the successful interventions the city has implemented, including electrification of “backyarder” properties and the development of the metropolitan bus transit system. The place of data was also highlighted through Adrian Stone from Sustainable Energy Africa’s exercise, encouraging participants to analyse and discuss data from a recent Jinja state of energy survey themselves.

The second day of the course focused on participation and key stakeholders in energy management, and methods to identify the stakeholders through network mapping, as well as to what extent these stakeholders and able (or willing) to advocate for energy transitions. Presentations on this day focused on the realities of bringing sustainable planning into action, whilst managing competing demands, with experiences and cases from the SAMSET Ghanaian partner municipalities, Awutu Senya East and Ga East, as well as from the Ugandan partner municipalities Jinja and Kasese. The closing keynote was presented by David Kasimbazi, head of the Centre for Urban Governance and Development at Victoria University, on the definitions of governance and good governance, and how this affects sustainable energy transitions in cities.

wp_20161109_006

Urban energy budgetary planning group session, led by Gamos. Image: Daniel Kerr

The third day of the course focused on the place that policy and regulatory frameworks can have in sustainable urban energy transitions. Presentations focused both on high-level policy and regulatory mechanisms, as well as technology-specific interventions in the urban sphere. The morning presentation from Vincent Agaba of the Real Estate Agents of Uganda was particularly relevant, in offering a property developer’s perspective in the sustainable transitions space, and the definitions of enabling environments in the space for developers. The afternoon saw Simon Batchelor from Gamos conduct a Netmapping exercise, a tool which the organisation has developed over many years, to identify the key stakeholders in the urban energy space, both in the partner municipalities outside Uganda and in Jinja and Kasese, as well as within the city

Day four of the course was centred around the theme of “Build(ing) Resilience”, with presentations focusing on designing and building with people, as well as ensuring resilience in design and sustainability. Key themes covered in the presentations included environmentally conscious design, with cases from local as well as international buildings, presented by Mark Olweny of Uganda Martyrs University, as well as innovative outreach initiatives for building support for sustainable energy transitions, and the use of the tourism sector as a driver of sustainable transitions, presented by Herbert Candia of Uganda Martyrs University.

The SAMSET Project will be hosting a third and final CPD course in Accra, Ghana from the 26th – 30th June 2017. More information on the course will be available both on this blog, as well as the project website, and the project Twitter.

Daniel Kerr, UCL Energy Institute

Continuing Professional Development Course – Kampala, Uganda 7-11 November 2016 – Fieldwork

The SAMSET Project hosted its second continuing professional development course at Victoria University in Kampala, Uganda from the 7th – 11th November 2016. The title of the course was “A Practitioner’s Insight into Urban Energy Planning, Implementation and Management”, and aimed to cover the issues that practitioners (such as urban planners, architects and municipal government officials) face when addressing urban energy management.

The first day of the course was focused on fieldwork in and around Kampala, aiming to give attendees experience of the issues facing Kampala in the urban energy and sustainable energy spheres today. The first part of the fieldwork focused on the central market district in Kampala, and involved a walking tour led by local partners through the market area and central business district of the city.

wp_20161107_024

Part of the central market district in Kampala. Image: Daniel Kerr

To say that the market area in Kampala is busy is an understatement. Passage through the area is only really possible on foot in some places, and even then only when avoiding the constant movement of goods and people through the narrow streets of the market district. The main roads in the area are extremely busy, with heavy goods vehicles mixing with matuba taxis and boda-bodas (motorcycle taxis) to create effective gridlock at some points in the day. The sustainable energy market, however, was on show in many areas, whether that be hole-in-the-wall shops selling small solar home systems, to street vendors selling improved cookstoves and cookstove liners. The challenges to urban transport were clear to see in the area, particularly how best to facilitate the movement of goods and people in the centre of the city, without stifling the bustling engine of economic growth that the central market district provides to the city.

The second phase of the CPD course fieldtrip involved a visit to a local landfill site on the outskirts of Kampala. This site processed a significant amount of the solid waste in the city, including from official waste management collection services and informal networks of waste collectors. The site also supports a network of informal waste pickers and processors, collecting items such as plastic waste for recycling. A recent initiative at the landfill has seen a PTFE processing facility constructed through collaboration with Chinese investors, although this site has not been without issues. In particular, while investment in the processing facility has created employment at the site, redistribution of profits from the facility has not occurred, with very little being reinvested in the site or community of waste pickers servicing it.

wp_20161107_039

Landfill site in Kampala, Uganda. Image: Daniel Kerr

The issues facing solid waste management in large, primary cities such as Kampala are myriad, and the effects of this were plain to see in this phase of the trip. Collection and processing, as well as sustainability in operations, are both issues that need to be addressed by urban planners when considering municipal waste issues.

Daniel Kerr, UCL Energy Institute

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.

SETUSA Banner 2

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.

SETUSA Final Call for Papers (PDF)

Details of the call for papers and other information, can be found on the conference website: www.setusa.isser.edu.gh

More information on the SAMSET project can also be found on our homepage: www.samsetproject.net

Africities, 2063, and Time

This is a joint blog by Simon Batchelor from Gamos and Sumaya Mahomed, Professional Officer in Renewable and Energy Efficiency in the Cape Town Municipality.

At the recent Africities conference, some of the SAMSET researchers had a conversation with municipal partners, and this article tries to capture its essence.  Their subject – timescales.

In the development sector, donors, civil society, NGOs, researchers, all tend to speak in terms of 1 to 3 years projects. While the planning processes of logical frameworks and business cases allows for an impact after the project end, there are few agencies willing to commit to more than 3 years. SAMSET is actually a four year project and in that sense quite rare.  Most of the other USES projects were 1 to 3 years. Yet within SAMSET is the aspiration to assist our partner municipalities to gather data, create a state of energy report, to model the future (based on that data), to take decisions and create a strategy for ‘energy transitions’. And, within the timeframe of the project, to take some first steps in that strategy, some actions.

In a slight contrast to this, Africities has as its slogan – “SHAPING THE FUTURE OF AFRICA WITH THE PEOPLE: THE CONTRIBUTION OF AFRICAN LOCAL AUTHORITIES TO AGENDA 2063 OF THE AFRICAN UNION.”. It is looking at 2063!  That is (nearly) a fifty year horizon. Africities knows that municipal planning, changes in infrastructure, raising the finance for those changes, takes decades not years.

SAMSET is funded by UK donors and some of the researchers come from the UK, so lets take the London Cross rail link as an example. First of all, lets remember that the essence of London Underground – the transport system that effectively keeps London working – that the essence was established in 1863 (The Metropolitan Railway, using gas-lit wooden carriages hauled by steam locomotives!). That’s nearly one hundred and fifty years ago. The cross link is a new tunnel that will join east London (the banking and business hub) to west London, and beyond. This tunnel has to go ‘in a straight line’ while at the same time missing existing underground tunnels, water mains, etc. At times it will be created just 1 metre from an existing underground structure.

So its perhaps surprising that it was apparently first mentioned in 1941, was written on a plan in 1943, serious consultations in the seventies, serious proposals in the nineties, commercial proposal in 2001, and decided on in 2005 (10 years ago) and construction started 2009. Despite the huge advances in tunnelling, it will still take another 5 years to complete.

And of course it is only one part of an ongoing dynamic change in infrastructure of one of the worlds leading cities.

So imagine now trying to raise funding for a Bus Rapid Transport system in Polokwane. The changes will require that roads be changed, new lanes created, negotiations with landowners of key areas, procurement of the equipment. It is not surprising that it has taken over 9 years since serious planning started (2006), and that it will take until 2020 before it is fully implemented, with all the associated traffic disruption of road works etc. Infrastructure in cities takes time to change.

SAMSET modelling shows what the energy consumption of a partner city might look like in 2030. It starts with a ‘business as usual’ model and then explores possible changes, assisting the partners to identify a key change that will make a good (low carbon) longer term change. In the case of Cape Town, the municipality asked for projections to 2040, as the felt 2030 was too close. The timescales in municipality minds are of 10 year, 20 year projects, not 1 to 3 year disconnected projects.

gamos.capetown blog growth

Figure 1 Cape Town Growth in energy consumption per sector for ‘business as usual’ scenario.

And consider the energy impact of a building. A building will last 40 years or more, so if planning permission is given to an energy inefficient glass tower, the air-con commitment is there until 2063.

So municipal planning has a very long term view. Of course in a counter flow to this long view of the municipal civil servants are the politicians who have a very short term view. Politicians are often concerned with short term benefits and easy wins, so they or their party gets re-elected.  For city planners it is a difficult balance.

So when we think of energy transitions what is the right timescale? Well in a complex world we have to think of all the actors, their different needs and juggle all of them together. We do need to find early easy wins so that donors to research projects and politicians are happy enough to fund a phase two.  We do need to build capacity so that despite the movement of people from job to job, a municipality gradually gains the required skills to consult, plan and implement longer term energy transitions.  And we do need to have a long term view. Building infrastructure, even building buildings, commits a city to a particular energy path for decades not just years, and so those long term implications need to be taken into account.

Local Government’s Role in Energy Transitions is Poorly Understood

Mark Borchers, Megan Euston-Brown and Melusile Ndlovu from Sustainable Energy Africa recently contributed this post to the Urbanafrica.net Urban Voices series, analysing the role of local government in sustainable energy transitions. The original is reproduced in full below.

African local governments have an important role to play in sustainable energy transitions, yet the ability within local governments to step into this role is severely inadequate. This is problematic because municipalities, in close contact with their citizenry, are often better placed to plan and respond to energy needs in locally appropriate ways than national governments or other ‘external’ agents.

Urbanization rates in Africa are amongst the highest in the world and the municipal capacity to undertake minimum levels of urban planning and basic service delivery is severely inadequate, as acknowledged by the African Development Bank, UNHabitat and Cities Alliance.

A major challenge is that local government is poorly understood by those trying to be agents of change, and research often remains at a superficial level. Even work which specifically aims at going beyond the usual ‘vague policy suggestions,’ to use a phrase from the ACC’s Edgar Pieterse, struggles to get to grips with many key local government dynamics, and the number of outputs produced by consultants or researchers with local government as an intended target audience, which have little or no purchase, is worrying.

Non-profit Sustainable Energy Africa’s experience of working in partnership with local government in South Africa for 17 years to support with sustainable energy transitions affirms this. The organization has provided capacity to local government in areas where government did not have experience, staff or systems, and in an environment where officials are often preoccupied with short-term service delivery and other urgent goals displace longer-term considerations such as those linked to climate change mitigation.

Sustainable Energy Africa has spent years supporting several municipalities in the development of energy and climate change strategies. However, after official approval of the first few strategies, it started becoming apparent that the momentum that had led to strategy finalization rarely continued into implementation. For example, the first set of strategies developed in the municipalities of Cape Town, Sol Plaatjie, Ekurhuleni, Buffalo City and Tshwane struggled to gain significant traction.

What followed was many years of supportive partnership with municipalities: participating in meetings, undertaking research in areas where there were concerns, developing specific motivations for political or other vested interests as they arose, engaging with city treasury to raise their awareness and explore workable revenue futures, exchanging lessons and sharing success stories amongst municipalities, and raising the profile of local issues in national fora and strategies.

Sustainable Energy Africa’s experience has demonstrated that the work involved in getting to the point of having an officially approved energy and climate change strategy is but a small fraction of what is required for any real change to gain traction. Unfortunately, the dynamics that impede efforts to bring the strategy to fruition are often poorly understood by development support institutions (including donors) and researchers. Guidelines and resource documents on urban transport policy development, climate proofing of informal settlements, and energy efficiency financing, to give a few examples, are often of little use to local government. Research focusing on dynamics affecting service delivery and assessments of renewable energy options for urban areas, for example, seldom talk to the constraints and pressures that senior officials encounter on a day-to-day basis, and thus tend to have little impact.

It is not surprising that adequately detailed understanding of local government is lacking, precisely because it is difficult to gain useful insight into this world from normal development support programmes, which may last a few years and often involve imported expertise, or from research projects, even if they are methodologically well considered. To illustrate, about 10 years ago work undertaken by development support organisations and researchers pointed to solar water heaters being economically, socially and environmentally beneficial for application across South Africa’s urban areas. Cost and technical feasibility studies were undertaken, presentations made, guidelines produced, case studies circulated, and workshops held. Introducing solar water heaters was considered by many to be a ‘no brainer’, and was a standard feature of all municipal energy strategies developed at the time. Yet over the years little changed. Within municipalities there were staff capacity barriers, institutional location uncertainties, debates around mandates, political ambivalence, and a good dose of plain old resistance to change.

When one of the most progressive South African municipalities finally developed a detailed solar water heater rollout programme, further obstacles had to be negotiated: it ran foul of the city treasury (it threatened electricity sales and thus revenue), electricity department (impact on the load profile, technical issues and revenue), procurement department (selection of different equipment service providers), housing department (roof strength issues of some government housing), and legal department (ownership of equipment and tendering processes), which further delayed progress by several years.

Heaters
Solar water heaters on low-income housing in South Africa. Image: SEA

Other sustainability interventions such as energy efficiency in buildings, renewable electricity generation and densification (an important enabler of sustainable transport options) all face their own mix of complexities, most of which are difficult to know from the outside.

Change in government institutions seldom happens fast. When those hoping to be agents of change better understand the complexities of municipal functioning, transformation can be more effectively facilitated. Supporting local government often means entering an uncomfortable, messy, non-linear space but it can be more effectively done than often happens. In many ways, what is required is an inversion of the usual approach: support agents or researchers need to respond to the specific, not the general; listen, not advise; seek to be of service rather than pursue a preconceived agenda. The focus of the lens needs to shift well beyond general observations on ‘local institutional capacity’, ‘reform of regulatory systems’ or ‘policy impasses’. What is needed is a much more detailed, nuanced, and longer-term understanding and set of relationships for more impactful engagement.

Through applying these approaches, Sustainable Energy Africa’s work in South Africa has helped local government move from being considered irrelevant to the energy field 10 years ago to being regarded as critical agents to a sustainable energy future today.

A recent independent review of Sustainable Energy Africa’s local government support programme points to its success. It is described as, amongst others, having a clear role in the development of nation-wide city energy data, in facilitating energy efficiency programmes in different sectors in several municipalities, in promoting renewable energy (often rooftop solar PV) in several major cities, and in institutionalizing sustainable energy and climate change issues within municipalities.

Drawing on the above experience, the SAMSET project is working with African municipalities at a detailed level in partnership with universities and development organisations in Africa and the UK, and six municipalities in Uganda, Ghana and South Africa. This collaboration walks the full process of systemic change with the municipalities, and focuses the lens of research and implementation support on this inadequately understood, yet critical, arena – the detailed dynamics in the belly of the local government beast.