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

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Geography

Abstract

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.

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 extended by a month after an extension was successfully applied for, and the project therefore ended on 31 March 2019. The intensive research that took part in 2017-18 has given way to an intensive period of data analysis and work on publications. The findings from our project that have seen the light so far include:

a) discussions of South Africa's energy landscape and prospects for energy transitions (see publications by Phillips and Baker). In particular, the project moved towards a call for focusing on electricity distribution as a key aspect of achieving a 'just' energy transition: 'the reconfiguration of electricity distribution faces significant political and economic challenges that are rooted in the country's socio-economic and racial inequalities and its heavy dependence on coal-fired power' (Phillips and Baker 2019: 177).

b.) further elaborations of critical approaches to energy poverty and vulnerability (see publications by Bouzarovski and Petrova); in particular, in the context of South African cities, the project has underlined how it is key to take into account wider, structural drivers of continued difficulty for energy access for the urban poor. These drivers are rooted in South African cities' specific history and politics.

c.) work on policy and other obstacles to transformation (see reports by SEA, Urban Transformations book chapter by the project team, and forthcoming publications by Caprotti and Essex). Although there exist strong institutional drivers to universal energy access in South Africa, there is a conundrum whereby the poorest still largely lack access to energy that is safe, clean and reliable. In our work, we have highlighted how it is often institutional barriers, and barriers related to the scales of governance (between government departments, and between different 'levels' of government), as well as institutional lock-ins, that stand in the way of achieving progressive change for the urban poor.

d.) In light of the above, the project's final event (on disruptive approaches to energy transformations) highlighted how there exist opportunities for innovative approaches to energy and electricity provision to the urban poor that can, through technical and social innovations, both be informed by poor communities and also effectively 'sidestep' policy obstacles so as to provide energy and electricity access (although we recognise that such access is often of lesser scope than grid access, and may be temporary due to its existence in what are often policy 'grey zones').
Exploitation Route Our findings can be used to inform a.) policymaking in the area of energy transitions and transformations, particularly with regard to the provision of more equitable access to off-grid and renewable energy sources in informal settlements; b.) empower local community groups and NGOs to engage with and inform the policy process.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Education,Energy,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice

 
Description Our findings were used to inform a funding application to a EPSRC GCRF Impact Accelerator award, which was awarded in 2018 to fund project-related impact activities in 2019. Furthermore, the activities involved in this originated from our research activities: we engaged with the notion of disruption fo established energy 'systems', and were able to bring together policymakers from Johannesburg and Polokwane municipalities, as well as start-up energy companies working on off-grid applications, and community representatives both from the UK and South Africa, as well as NGO partners and relevant UK government departments (InnovateUK) to discuss how disruption can be fostered across these areas of action. The event achieved impact in helping to change perceptions of energy poverty and its visibility among participants. Additionally, the work on this project that focused on policy barriers and obstacles to urban energy transformations in South Africa resulted, in 2019, in a bid to a GCRF (British Academy) Urban Infrastructures of Well-Being call. An award was made to two of the team members on this grant (the PI and the South African Co-I), to take forward work focused on moving past policy and other barriers to grid electrification by focusing on off-grid spaces in informal settlements, and linking these to wellbeing. The grant was awarded in November 2019, and ran until November 2021. Work on this project also resulted, in 2020, in the award, to Federico Caprotti and Jiska de Groot, of the 2020 Newton Prize, in the £500K Chair's Prize category, an award that received broad recognition in the UK and South Africa. The prize awarded will be focused on developing new approaches to linking solar minigrids to productive use appliances in the South African context. In turn, this has generated an additional £46K of small grant funding from NERC and the Policy Support Fund (at the end of 2021) for work developing the policy-relevant impact of work on renewables and low income urban areas in South Africa.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Education
Impact Types Societal,Policy & public services

 
Description GCRF Impact Acceleration Account
Amount £21,445 (GBP)
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 12/2018 
End 03/2019
 
Description UMBANE: powering innovative sustainable businesses with productive use appliances in South African informal settlements at the margins of the grid
Amount £497,000 (GBP)
Organisation Newton Fund 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2021 
End 03/2022
 
Description Urban Infrastructures of Well-Being
Amount £297,751 (GBP)
Funding ID UWB190088 
Organisation The British Academy 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 11/2019 
End 11/2021
 
Description A blog post, titled 'Global energy services: towards a comprehensive understanding' 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact A BLOG ENTRY, IN A SERIES OF BLOGS LINKING THE PROJECT'S RESEARCH THEME TO BROADER CONCERNS AND THEMATICS OF CONTEMPORARY INTEREST WITH REGARDS TO BOTH URBAN ENERGY TRANSFORMATIONS IN SOUTH AFRICA, AND, MORE BROADLY, THE ISSUE OF TRANSITIONS TO LOWER-CARBON SOCIETAL AND ENERGY FUTURES.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://www.urbanenergytransformations.co.za/2016/understanding-global-energy-services/
 
Description A blog post, titled 'Green energy transitions in South Africa: On what terms? 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact A BLOG ENTRY, IN A SERIES OF BLOGS LINKING THE PROJECT'S RESEARCH THEME TO BROADER CONCERNS AND THEMATICS OF CONTEMPORARY INTEREST WITH REGARDS TO BOTH URBAN ENERGY TRANSFORMATIONS IN SOUTH AFRICA, AND, MORE BROADLY, THE ISSUE OF TRANSITIONS TO LOWER-CARBON SOCIETAL AND ENERGY FUTURES.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.urbanenergytransformations.co.za/2017/green-energy-transitions-in-sa-wicked-problem/
 
Description A blog post, titled 'Light services: energy poverty reconsidered' 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A BLOG ENTRY, IN A SERIES OF BLOGS LINKING THE PROJECT'S RESEARCH THEME TO BROADER CONCERNS AND THEMATICS OF CONTEMPORARY INTEREST WITH REGARDS TO BOTH URBAN ENERGY TRANSFORMATIONS IN SOUTH AFRICA, AND, MORE BROADLY, THE ISSUE OF TRANSITIONS TO LOWER-CARBON SOCIETAL AND ENERGY FUTURES.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.urbanenergytransformations.co.za/2017/light-services-energy-poverty-reconsidered/
 
Description A blog post, titled 'Low carbon transitions in South Africa: the governance and skills gap?' 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact A BLOG ENTRY, IN A SERIES OF BLOGS LINKING THE PROJECT'S RESEARCH THEME TO BROADER CONCERNS AND THEMATICS OF CONTEMPORARY INTEREST WITH REGARDS TO BOTH URBAN ENERGY TRANSFORMATIONS IN SOUTH AFRICA, AND, MORE BROADLY, THE ISSUE OF TRANSITIONS TO LOWER-CARBON SOCIETAL AND ENERGY FUTURES.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.urbanenergytransformations.co.za/2017/lct-sa-governance-skills-gap/
 
Description A blog post, titled 'Why South Africa is finding it difficult to wean itself off coal' 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A BLOG ENTRY, IN A SERIES OF BLOGS LINKING THE PROJECT'S RESEARCH THEME TO BROADER CONCERNS AND THEMATICS OF CONTEMPORARY INTEREST WITH REGARDS TO BOTH URBAN ENERGY TRANSFORMATIONS IN SOUTH AFRICA, AND, MORE BROADLY, THE ISSUE OF TRANSITIONS TO LOWER-CARBON SOCIETAL AND ENERGY FUTURES.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://www.urbanenergytransformations.co.za/2016/difficult-to-wean-off-coal/
 
Description A blog post, titled 'Your piece of the sun: energy poverty and gender in urban South Africa' 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A BLOG ENTRY, IN A SERIES OF BLOGS LINKING THE PROJECT'S RESEARCH THEME TO BROADER CONCERNS AND THEMATICS OF CONTEMPORARY INTEREST WITH REGARDS TO BOTH URBAN ENERGY TRANSFORMATIONS IN SOUTH AFRICA, AND, MORE BROADLY, THE ISSUE OF TRANSITIONS TO LOWER-CARBON SOCIETAL AND ENERGY FUTURES.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.urbanenergytransformations.co.za/2017/your-piece-of-the-sun/
 
Description An article in The Conversation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact An article lead authored by project collaborator Lucy Baker (University of Sussex), titled 'Why South Africa is finding it difficult to wean itself off coal' was published in The Conversation on March 15, 2016. The article tackles the key question of how to enable transition to sustainable or low-carbon forms of energy in the South African context.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://theconversation.com/why-south-africa-is-finding-it-difficult-to-wean-itself-off-coal-55045
 
Description Blog entry: Wicked Problems, Complex Solutions? Urban Transformations And Energy Provision In South Africa 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A blog entry, the first in a series of blogs linking the project's research theme to broader concerns and thematics of contemporary interest with regards to both urban energy transformations in South Africa, and, more broadly, the issue of transitions to lower-carbon societal and energy futures.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://www.urbanenergytransformations.co.za/2016/wicked-problems-complex-solutions-urban-transforma...
 
Description Blog post, titled: Municipalities Under Pressure - Energy Transitions, The Apartheid Legacy And South Africa's Fractured Urban System 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A BLOG ENTRY, IN A SERIES OF BLOGS LINKING THE PROJECT'S RESEARCH THEME TO BROADER CONCERNS AND THEMATICS OF CONTEMPORARY INTEREST WITH REGARDS TO BOTH URBAN ENERGY TRANSFORMATIONS IN SOUTH AFRICA, AND, MORE BROADLY, THE ISSUE OF TRANSITIONS TO LOWER-CARBON SOCIETAL AND ENERGY FUTURES.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://www.urbanenergytransformations.co.za/2016/municipalities-under-pressure-energy/
 
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 Participation in InnovateUK brokerage presentation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact On 17 June 2020 the PI and Co-I presented at the InnovateUK Energy Catalyst Round 8 brokerage event on public-private collaborative partnerships. There were 175 registered attendees, 16 participants, and a video of the presentations and discussions was available via InnovateUK from June to August 2020.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://energy-catalyst-round-8.b2match.io/home
 
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 Side event at the UN World Urban Forum 2018, Kuala Lumpur 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact A side event was organised at the 2018 UN World Urban Forum in Kuala Lumpur. The side event was titled 'What can urban sustainability experiments do?' It attracted an audience of 53, most of whom were policymakers, practitioners, members of third sector organisations and NGOs, researchers and the general public. A total of 85 project reports were disseminated to the audience before, during and after the event. Email communications were received from audience members stating that they had found the side event useful for their own work. The side event enabled the participation at the WUF of study members from South Africa, and NGOs (such as IShack, an energy in informal settlements-focused South African NGO) that have been involved in our research,
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xg_D1KiWHaQ
 
Description The University of Plymouth's Sphere magazine published a 2-page article covering the research project. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact The University of Plymouth's Sphere magazine published a 2-page article covering the research project. The article covered the project's primary aim and contribution in seeking to understand the potential for energy transformations in South African municipalities.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.plymouth.ac.uk/research/institutes/sustainable-earth/publications
 
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