Urban Transformation in South Africa Through Co-Designing Energy Services Provision Pathways

Lead Research Organisation: King's College London
Department Name: Geography


Energy is a critical enabler of development. Energy transitions, involving changes to both systems of energy supply and demand, are fundamental processes behind the development of human societies and are driven by technical, economic, political and social factors. Historical specificities and geography influence the character of energy transitions. In a world that is experiencing unprecedented urban growth, modern urbanised societies are highly dependent on energy. By 2030, more than 50% of people in developing countries are expected to live in cities, which is a figure set to grow to 66% by 2050. This urbanisation trend is even more prominent in South Africa, where 64% of its population already live in urban areas and is expected to rise to 70% by 2030. South African cities are highly dependent on energy, and access to and the provision of energy services affects urban energy transitions. Furthermore, access to affordable and reliable energy services is fundamental to reducing poverty and advancing economic growth. In response to this, many cities in South Africa and beyond have adopted sustainable energy provision strategies and solutions as a way of promoting economic development and greening of urban economies. However, Sustainable Energy Africa (SEA)'s State of the Energy in South African Cities report (2015) identifies that much remains to be done in order to transform South African cities towards a more sustainable urban energy profile, which is in turn aimed at improving welfare, supporting economic activity, creating 'green collar' and other jobs, and reducing carbon emissions. The project's focus on urban energy transitions is therefore both timely and necessary.

Cities in South Africa are notable for their central role in the governance of energy. Municipalities are constitutionally mandated to serve as electricity distributors and are responsible for maintaining infrastructure, providing new connections and setting minimum service level standards as well as pricing and subsidies levels for poor consumers. Therefore, municipalities have become major actors in urban energy infrastructures. Nonetheless, systemic change is hampered by: a.) the lack of integrated energy strategies; b.) the declining performance of energy supply networks in South Africa; c.) the high carbon intensity of South Africa's energy supply, at a time when South Africa is actively seeking to decarbonize the economy; d.) a stalled level of electrification in certain poor urban areas in South African cities; and e.) the continued prevalence of energy poverty, even in grid-connected South African urban households. A key issue is the continued prevalence of a focus on energy supply, as opposed to the broader and more complex notion of energy services.

It is clear that municipal processes and systems will have to change in order for energy transitions to occur. This project investigates the dynamics and co-evolution of municipal processes so as to create pathways to new, greener and fairer urban energy configurations. The project establishes a dialogue between work on socio-technical transitions and on energy geographies to analyze and identify energy transition pathways towards municipal-scale energy services regimes. The project's embeddedness in ongoing urban energy transition work will provide an evidence-base for co-designing pathways for energy services provision in South Africa's cities, alongside exploring opportunities in new energy configurations for transformations to urban green economies. This research project consists of SA research partners (the University of Cape Town's Energy Research Centre) and UK partners (King's College London; the University of Manchester; Plymouth University and the University of Sussex), together with the local energy transition expertise of Sustainable Energy Africa.

Planned Impact

The project will have an impact in informing policymaking as well as business and community engagement in municipalities in South Africa and Southern Africa. Our research project involves sustained and detailed engagement with beneficiaries in South Africa:

Policy beneficiaries: policymakers at the national level, especially those concerned with urban energy systems and energy infrastructure and economic planning, or with environmental planning (such as the Departments of: Energy; Economic Development; Environmental Affairs; Human Settlements); d.) local government bodies at the level of individual case studies, including energy agencies at the scale of urban municipalities. These beneficiaries will benefit from engagement in the project through published outputs and from attendance at community-focused stakeholder impact workshops (see 'community beneficiaries' below), policy workshops, and the project website.

Business beneficiaries: South African businesses such as energy infrastructure, energy systems and renewable energy manufacturing and installation corporations; and urban development and design firms, engineering corporations, or consultancies. Business beneficiaries will benefit from published, workshop and webinar impact mechanisms mentioned above (in the discussion on policy beneficiaries), as well as from a specific, business-focused output: an Executive Summary Report targeting business impact, informed through engagement with businesspeople and corporations throughout the project's lifetime, therefore making sure that the report targets topics, issues and solutions relevant to SA businesses.

Community beneficiaries: these will include local community stakeholders at case study sites, including municipal and wider community actors. These beneficiaries represent those who will be most directly affected by energy transitions projects and policies. It is expected that many of these beneficiaries will be located in and around our case study municipalities, although one of the project's aims is for the identified transition pathways to be open to upscaling and application across a wide range of municipalities. Community beneficiaries will also include NGOs, civil society organizations, and individual citizens. They will benefit from all the activities mentioned above, with a particular focus on the stakeholder impact meetings.

Policy, business and community beneficiaries: will benefit from the provision made within the project for these beneficiaries to participate at stakeholder impact meetings and policy workshops in the UK and South Africa. These events will be key knowledge sharing, mutual learning and networking opportunities for policymakers, businesses and community stakeholders. Those beneficiaries participating in policy workshops in South Africa will benefit from case study site visits to selected smart eco-cities, enabling on-the-ground policy and practice learning.

Finally, we aim to achieve broader societal impact through enabling the construction of cleaner and more equitable urban economies and environments, thus helping to ensure successful energy transitions, the emergence of a sustainable green economy, and better, more prosperous, and environmentally resilient urban communities.


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Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
ES/N014138/1 14/02/2016 13/09/2016 £403,207
ES/N014138/2 Transfer ES/N014138/1 14/09/2016 31/03/2019 £356,308
Description The project was moved to another institution in 2016 and the updated project information can be found under project number ES/N014138/2. The Key Findings will appear there.
Exploitation Route See the Key Findings section updated at project number ES/N014138/2
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Energy,Government, Democracy and Justice

Description Municipal workshop on 'Supporting the development of gender-sensitive sustainable energy solutions and strategies for low income households in South Africa' 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact A half-day workshop was held with the City of Johannesburg and their non-governmental partners in municipal energy governance and was attended by 16 invited participants. The aim of the workshop was to supporting the development of gender-sensitive sustainable energy solutions and strategies for low income households in Johannesburg and in South Africa more broadly. The workshop was convened and facilitated by project partners Sustainable Energy Africa, with contributions informed by the research conducted under the Award from the project's Postdoctoral Research Associate, Dr Jon Phillips. A draft version of a High Level Action Plan was presented by Sustainable Energy Africa, forming the basis of discussion with municipal energy managers and non-governmental partners on how the draft Plan might be adapted and implemented. Plans were made for the City of Johannesburg Department of Environment, Infrastructure and Service Delivery (EISD) to work with Sustainable Energy Africa to present recommendations to the mayoral committee, and for EISD with support from Sustainable Energy Africa to hold a mayoral committee workshop developing awareness and capacity around the feasibility and sustainability of grid electricity and alternative energy options for low income households.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description Side event at the UN Habitat World Urban Forum, Kuala Lumpur 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact A side event was held at the 9th Session of the UN-Habitat World Urban Forum (WUF9), held in Kuala Lumpur, 8-13 February 2018. The side event aimed to stimulate discussion around the potential for 'urban experiments' to contribute to the implementation of the UN's New Urban Agenda (adopted in October 2016 at the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development Habitat III, in Ecuador). Around 50-60 WUF9 participants from cities around the world took part in the event. Some of the key learnings from the audience discussion and feedback forms were summarised, published and fed back to the participants. The audience discussion responded to a series of short vignettes of different types of urban experimentation, presented by David Hees (on the iShack solar energy project in Cape Town, South Africa), Melissa Kerim- Dikeni (on the work of the Nelson Mandela Bay Regional Innovation Forum, also in Cape Town), Dr Rob Cowley (on the ongoing process of experimentation in Corridor Manchester, UK), and Prof May Tan-Mullins & Dr Ali Cheshmehzangi (on experimental 'smart city' gov- ernance in the city of Ningbo, China). A pdf of the presentation slides and a video of the presentations are available online at the Smart Eco-Cities project website, URL below.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://www.smart-eco-cities.org/?p=609
Description Workshop with Polokwane Municipality and other stakeholders 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact A half-day workshop was held with Polokwane Municipality to review, reflect, learn, share and take forward the work relating to the Energy and Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan of the municipality. The workshop was convened and facilitated by project partners Sustainable Energy Africa, with contributions informed by the research from the project's Postdoctoral Research Associate, Dr Jon Phillips. 25 participants undertook a facilitated self-evaluation of progress towards the goals of the strategy. The exercise provided a review process for the municipality and the stakeholders that they work in partnership with, as well as providing valuable insights for the project's research into the successes and challenges that policy makers and practitioners have experienced in fostering urban energy transitions. Plans were made for further engagement to provide valuable continuity in support for municipal action of climate change and energy in Polokwane, facilitated by Sustainable Energy Africa as project partners.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017