Tag Archives: Urban

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

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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.

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.

Where Is The Blackwood?

Simon Batchelor from Gamos offers his thoughts on the importance of considering charcoal use as a fuel option, even in urbanising areas.

As David Mann of UMU points out in last week’s blog, “wood and charcoal still represent roughly 90 per cent of the total energy consumed in the country (Uganda).” He goes on to say that “as Ugandan cities grow and develop, the fuels used in transportation, industry, refrigeration, lighting and entertainment become more diverse; we see gasoline, paraffin, diesel, and electricity increasing their share of the energy mix.”  This energy mix is important for Africa municipalities, although wood and charcoal remain a mainstay.  Remember that cooking remains the largest single use of energy in an urban household.  Even in a large city like Kampala charcoal looms large.

Using Measure DHS data we can show  in the figure below that charcoal was a dominant choice of cooking fuel in Kampala in 2011.  Each dot represents a cluster of respondents, and each red dot shows that between 75% to 100% of households surveyed in that cluster were using charcoal for cooking.   Only in a few areas at the very centre of Kampala do the number of households using charcoal drop to below 50%.

Gamos Blog Feb 14 Image

So given the prevalence of charcoal for cooking, it must feature in designs for the future?  Given our focus on modernity, and the irrelevance of charcoal to the mega cities of the Western world it is easy to marginalise the role of charcoal.  Consider the Future Proofing Cities report.  This scoping study sought to “help national and regional  government and development agencies understand the environmental risks to growth and poverty reduction in cities to target investment and support at those urban areas or greatest need”.   It “assesses the risks to cities from climate hazards, resource scarcities, and damage to ecosystems and how they can act now to future proof themselves.

This comprehensive report addresses the balance to be struck between urban growth and development on one hand, and environmental damage on the other. Energy is indeed one of the factors considered, but when it comes to the use of biomass specifically, it lists a biomass power plant and tree planting as options for Bangkok.  Although it does acknowledge the use of fuelwood (almost in passing), it fails to mention ‘charcoal’ specifically, and only touched on deforestation as a contributor to the complex agriculture water erosion nexus.  This is not to criticise the report team, but rather to illustrate how a focus on modern approaches to urban development can easily overlook a simple, but currently a major, energy source in Africa.

Charcoal will remain important for cities in Africa for the foreseeable future, and we need to bring it into any discussion of, as David puts it, ‘energy production and usage at the scale of the municipality’.

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.