Tag Archives: Infrastructure

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

The Challenges of Low Carbon Urban Development

Mark Borchers from SEA comments on the C40 City Mayors Summit, held in Johannesburg in February.

There are plenty of ideas about low carbon urban development. These tend to circulate in policy documents, reviews and conference presentations. The challenge is to take these ideas and let them take root and gain life in the messy engine rooms of cities where the aircon may have been broken for many months, the average qualification basic, a receptionist painting their nails, the engineer gone and the finance officer unwilling to do anything new. It may take 3 months just to appoint a staff member; up to six months to issue a tender and appoint a contractor. I have heard of instances where money for retrofit of public lighting ended up paying staff salaries; and funds for solar water heating installation could not be spent as there was no engineer to sign off that the houses could structurally bear the load.

Scratch the surface, however, and there is also a wealth of experience, irreplaceable on-ground technical knowledge and institutional memory. I have also experienced, across almost every municipality in South Africa at least, a massive commitment to meet the environmental challenges facing us.

In February city leaders met in Johannesburg for the C40 City Mayors Summit. Political analysts Richard Calland and Jerome van Rooij (‘African cities need to work together’) posed the question: will African cities be able to ‘catch the wave’ of cities being “where it’s at” with regard to sustainable development and green-growth, given their fiscal and political/legal limitations? Not without a major gearing up, they conclude.

SAMSET aims to address this, following a model that has been enormously successful in South Africa to date: taking an sustainable energy/urban development idea, working on it hand in hand with city staff; when it hits a snarl-up, deepening the investigation, exploring a number of possibilities and moving closer to a solution – a programme of real intervention. As the work happens, the finance begins to flow in, the capacity to do the work expands, new offices develop and the institution reconfigures itself. Incremental, but potentially powerful.

Engineering Knowledge and Research Program Revisited

Simon Batchelor from Gamos on the potential changes in citizen behaviour over the last decade from some previous research, and how the SAMSET project will help to investigate this.

One of the things that excites me about the SAMSET research project is that we potentially get to revisit earlier research and consider the changes in citizen behaviour over a decade or more.  Back in 2005 we researched the Khayelitsha township in Cape Town, as part of the Engineering Knowledge and Research (EngKaR) Programme of the UK Department for International Development (DFID).  A sample of 226 households was drawn from four neighbourhoods, representing informal settlement without services (at that time), informal settlement with basic services, RDP[1] houses with services and a community of ‘core houses’[2].  Unusually for that time the electricity supply in the township was operated by an intermediary energy supply company, PN Energy.  PN Energy was set up in 1994, had expanded its customer base from 6,000 to 60,000 households, and reduced non-technical losses from around 80% to nearer 5%. They used prepayment technology exclusively, and the connection fee for a household wa 150 R.  Nearly 10 years after, I took another look at the PN Energy website and I have to admit that I found the current website fairly uninformative, and I am not sure whether PN Energy has retained its autonomy from Eskom?

Gamos Blog March 14 Image

For us at that time it was fascinating to see how people managed energy use in the home.  The study divided the sample into two groups according to whether household income was above or below R1,500 per month.  Energy costs were relatively high for both groups, and amongst the poorer group energy was actually the second highest item of household expenditure.  Obviously the exact data is out of date now, and updates are required, but to us it was fascinating that in 2005, electricity appeared to be the preferred means of cooking, at least where people had access to electricity (either formally through a prepayment meter, or informally).

Main cooking appliances

Type of electricity supply
Main cooking appliance Pre-payment meter Extension cord No electricity

Electric stove / oven

68% 53%

Gas stove

8% 8%

Paraffin stove

24% 47% 92%

N (households per group):

151 36 37

‘Extension cord’ means just that.  For example, one side of the road which had electricity would run a ‘frayed wire’ across the road to give other households electricity – not sanctioned officially but practical and expedient.  Such wiring of course can dangerously overheat if too much power is drawn through it.  Households with extension cords had a more negative experience of electricity supply than those with metered connections – marginally more households with extension cords experience power cuts, voltage drop that prohibits use of appliances, and damage to appliances.  Theft of cables was, naturally, more of a problem amongst households using extension cords. Although more households using extension cords experienced electric shocks, perhaps surprisingly there was no difference in the reported incidence of fires caused by electricity.

However I remember that life was more of a challenge to those who did not have electricity.  21% of the overall sample said they did not use space heating appliances and a further 23% did not respond (indicating they have no appliance).  At that time energy poverty was contributing to high rates of pulmonary / respiratory disease in the Western Cape.  Also most households without electricity used paraffin, which also presented health hazards.  26% of non-electrified households use an imbhawula which can also be dangerous when used in enclosed spaces.

Imbawula Image

I hope we get a chance to find out how life has changed over the ten years?


[1] Reconstruction and Development Programme

[2] Formal houses built when people first started moving into the area, these houses have basic servces, but are much bigger than RDP homes.

Municipalities: The Cities of Tomorrow

Alex Ndibwami of Uganda Martyrs University offers his perspective on urbanisation in Uganda, and its energy challenges.

Today’s municipalities as we know them are the cities of tomorrow.  I have come to terms with the fact that cities are inevitable but, much as development of any sorts borrows from global trends, it is also possible to plan how sustainably a society will harness the resources the environment provides.  If only as a warning, it has been predicted that the least developed countries unfortunately, will have the least resilience in the event of any [imminent] natural disasters – the consequence of a wasteful attitude toward our natural resources.

Top of the list of resources is energy, or rather where it is harnessed.  Energy at a social level contributes to how we live, how we work, how we relate, how we think and how we consume.  But for some time and now, today – the main question is about how efficiently it is used and how accessible it is.

In Uganda, like any other (Sub-Saharan African) society, there are a number of different sources of energy and end uses.  Hydro is a ‘popular’ albeit unreliable source of energy and in households for example, this electricity: is used for lighting, cooking, among other household needs or luxuries.  Nationally though, wood based fuel is the most utilised resource because it is not only affordable, but fits within the traditional way of living and preparing meals.  The urban dimension of things however, requires us to look beyond that household threshold to how accessible for example electricity is and how efficiently oil/gas is used and perhaps what alternatives there are in order to mitigate the impacts of (uncontrolled) consumption at both domestic and commercial scale.

But, this is not a concern of many a consumer, because all they need to know is how to survive.  Research initiatives are one way to fill this gap – to advance knowledge on how to deal with some of these issues.  As such, it is a great privilege to be part of such a formidable team.  Indeed, SAMSET is well situated to cater to as wide a context for Africa in West Africa (Ghana), East Africa (Uganda) and Southern Africa (South Africa); and such seasoned partners from the United Kingdom.  The Faculty of the Built Environment at Uganda Martyrs University is committed to research on energy and SAMSET adds an action-oriented dimension for which we are eager to undertake.  The level of service delivery and how far issues to do with energy are understood varies in each context; what is common though is that it ought to be improved.  In this regard, the first network meeting reiterated the need for a careful stakeholder analysis and appreciation of cultures of reception.  As such, for SAMSET to make significant strides, the selection of stakeholders has to take into account the contribution they will make and how strategically situated they are – in local government, community based organisations and the like.  In addition, we will be dealing with municipal councils and their constituents whose context we have to appreciate for them to embrace any interventions.

We look forward to a successful project.