Energy On the Move: longitudinal perspectives on energy transitions among marginal populations (a comparative study)

Lead Research Organisation: Durham University
Department Name: Anthropology


This research examines the energy practices of very poor women, men and young people living in informal settlements in peri-urban situations in Nigeria, South Sudan, Nepal and Bangladesh and how these are changing, drawing comparative lessons across the study countries. It challenges conventional approaches to energy transition research. Lack of access to clean energy limits economic development, stifles people's life chances and traps millions into extreme poverty. Sustainable Development Goal 7 makes bringing access to affordable, clean and reliable energy for the poor a necessary element in transforming the development prospects for the 1.4 million people currently without modern energy services. However, while considerable development activity is being devoted to bringing new technological products from renewable energy research centre laboratory benches into the affordable reach of the energy-poor, current approaches to energy transition are deficient, not least because they fail to take into account the specific contexts and needs of the poorest and most marginal groups in low income countries: the women, men and youth on whom we focus in this project.

The study will explore the energy practices of those who have experienced displacement as a result of environmental precarity (disasters or climate change), or political conflict, and are living in peri-urban locations but unconnected to the electricity grid. They offer a prime example of vulnerable groups whose energy requirements continue to be (poorly) met by biomass: the implications are substantial and extend beyond energy to transport (since high biomass usage can put a massive transport burden on women and children through head-loading of firewood/charcoal) and to other sectors, e.g. food, water, health. The study's novel purpose is to understand the range of means by which the poor access energy for light, heat and cooking fuel, and how this may have changed over time. While it is likely there

Planned Impact

The key objective of our impact strategy is to communicate our findings effectively and efficiently to potential users in-country and globally, promoting their uptake in policy and practice. Our co-production approach to research through close collaboration with local organisations will aid this.

Who will benefit: Given the hitherto low profile of the energy needs of marginal migrant people in low income countries with experience of conflict, it will be necessary to ensure our research reaches a wide range of target audiences at an early stage to achieve maximum sensitisation. In addition to study community members themselves, this includes in-country Ministries of Women and children's affairs, Environment, Employment, Health, Education, Energy, Transport; local NGOs/CBOs working in these fields (e.g. the Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution (Nigeria)); international NGOs focused on energy, climate change and/or conflict; relevant bilateral and multilateral agencies (e.g. DFID, World Bank, AfDB, ADB, UNICEF); National Forum Groups of the International Forum for Rural Development and Transport (IFRTD).

Why they might benefit: We envisage that Short to medium-term impacts [during the short award period and up to one year after] will be mainly on a) the direct beneficiaries (i.e. recent female and male immigrants into our peri-urban sites) whose energy needs will be our prime focus and who will learn about potential options for improved energy access; b) a wider set of potential in-country users, and c) global users. In-country users (b) will include government ministries (energy, transport, environment, health, women's affairs, local government etc.) that come together to address energy issues holistically through this project. It is particularly important that the energy and transport sectors which have typically worked in silos
despite their important interconnections, come together to consider biomass transport and related issues (DU author
Description 1. Collection of qualitative data on energy poverty among the increasing numbers of people living in informal settlements in peri-urban areas of capital cities in the Global South
2. Development of comparative perspectives on gendered dimensions of energy practices and coping strategies in the livelihoods of informal settlers
3. Better understanding of reasons why renewable energy technologies are not as prominent as they could be in the repertoire of energy strategies among many informal settlers
4. Engagement with national communities of stakeholders (other researchers, policy people, NGOs and practitioners) to consider policy dimensions for greater inclusion of informal settlers in planning for renewable energy transitions
5. People living in informal settlements on the edges of capital cities consider themselves as contributing significantly to the growing urban economies of those cities, but the energy options available to them, and their range of habitual fuels reinforce their sense of having a poor deal in terms of energy infrastructure services they can access.

The award objectives were realised in large measure with great success. The project has generated very strong research materials for understanding how the energy needs of men, women and youth intersect in distinctive ways with issues of health, education, livelihood political access. By these accounts of the role of energy practices in poor peoples' lives, it has been possible to build in-depth analysis of 'Energy Resilience Narratives', which can be used to informing new directions in policy for renewable energy transitions and achieving sustainable energy for all.
Some problems were encountered in conduct of research in South Sudan where conditions for research activity and continuity of personnel has proven remarkably difficult, due to which a request for an extension was submitted
Exploitation Route By dissemination among other projects working on for example 'Urban community resilience' (ESRC Research to Impact paper), and sustainable energy transitions (Low Carbon Energy for Development Network). The project was featured in the annual conference of the Low Carbon Energy for Development Network in Strathclyde University between 1st-3rd May (2019), where specific connections will be made to the development of the new DFID research programme on 'Modern Energy Cooking Services'.

The major contribution of the project is to inform and provide evidence to practitioners, policy makers and other researchers concerning the capacities for innovation in energy practices among the poor living in informal settlements, and to recognise how cultural and gender factors enter how people give voice to 'energy resilience narratives'

There is a new opportunity for this project's work to find use, which is through a collaboration with the UK High Commission in Bangladesh climate and environment unit. An informal settlers' solar cookbook will be produced out of a workshop to be conducted in December 2021/Jan 2022 in Dhaka, using this participatory approach to inform how the support for clean energy transitions can be taken forward in collaborative associations with communities experiencing energy poverty.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Construction,Electronics,Energy,Environment,Healthcare,Government, Democracy and Justice,Transport

Description The project team members are working with findings to produce a set of case studies, concerning how and why experimentation in energy practices happens on the ground. It is anticipated that these case studies will be used as grounds of evidence to then influence programmes and particular interventions for economic and social impact. There is significant momentum to influence policy on renewable energy provision in humanitarian and refugee contexts. - Because the project is working on four different countries there are distinctive policy contexts to take into consideration. The team working in Nepal has used energy research networks enabled by the Low Carbon Energy for Development Network's work with the DFID Transforming Energy Access and its 'Partnerships and Skills Development' activity which supported the International Conference for Development of Renewable Energy Technologies (March 2018), in order to give prominence to the energy needs of informal settlers in relation to the new Energy White paper of Nepal, and the adoption of the slogan 'Every house, power house'. The final meeting of the Country Consultative Group (March 22 2019) will explicitly look to expand an inclusive approach for the relevant bodies to involve informal settlers in distributed energy generation programmes. - In Nigeria the strength of the research team's contacts within the transport sector has led to enhanced understandings of the importance of motorbike taxis run by men for the access that women subsequently have to better quality fuels. - In Bangladesh a novel feature has been use of local communities' own research capacity to assist with interview activity, and bring consent from within the communities for research conduct. This demonstrates a significant urban resource that different sectors can turn to for grassroots governance issues, which are becoming ever more complex as climate change scenarios multiply. - In South Sudan, the project has picked up a silence concerning the position of energy services in public discourse. There appears to be an atomistic and instrumental disposition for coping, alongside occasional benevolent provision in the sphere of influence of powerful families who can access reliable supplies of charcoal and firewood or even give people power lines from diesel generators. The value of attention to these aspects of on-the-ground energy practices is being shared with NGOs and energy policy developers in the country. A report was produced in September 2020 for South Sudan by CI Cherry Leonardi and the Rift Valley Institute entitled 'Fuelling Poverty: the challenges of accessing energy among urban households in Juba South Sudan' In relation to Bangladesh, the PI has joined in discussion for implementing fundings from the project with the British High Commission in Bangladesh and colleagues from the Low Carbon Energy for Development Network. In relation to this initiative, further Impact funding of £15000 from Durham University ESRC Impact Acceleration Award was applied for and passed A further article on governance aspects of energy transitions research and policy is due to be submitted in coming weeks
First Year Of Impact 2021
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Energy,Government, Democracy and Justice,Transport
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Economic,Policy & public services

Description Transforming Energy Access
Geographic Reach Asia 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Impact Through the participation of the research team in the International Conference on Development of Renewable Energy Technologies (March 20-18), meeting the Minister for Energy on the podium, and later holding the CCG of 24th July 2018, and producing poster materials for the International Social Science Baha conference (26/27 July) our project has substantially brought to prominence the role of social sciences in progressing energy policy in South Asian countries, in particular with relation to provision of energy services in informal settlements.
Description Energy on the Move
Amount £15,000 (GBP)
Funding ID RI170024 
Organisation Economic and Social Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2021 
End 05/2022
Title Energy Life Histories 
Description These in-depth interviews are designed to give a personal account of how energy transitions (the arrival of new fuels, infrastructure etc) are perceived and configured within the life career of people situated in distinct socio-cultural contexts, which then gives the theory of energy transitions more granularity concerning the normative factors involved in shifting to different energy practices and habits. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The impact is anticipated once the country case studies have been completed and published. 
Title Energy Resilience Narratives 
Description The methodological concept Energy Resilience Narratives uses locally salient accounts of how people have coped with shocks and disruptions to infrastructures such as grids or mini-grids, and resorted to flexible adaptations of energy livelihood practice. The term was first applied in research to understand recovery from earthquake shock in Nepal after 2015, but we found in the Energy on the Move project that it is useful as a means of characterising comparative approaches to how different communities, classes and genders seek to maintain livelihood equilibrium by a portfolio of energy resourcefulness and reciprocal relations that facilitate 'people as infrastructure', in ways that modern assumptions of physical systems and technologically oriented approaches to energy resilience might not anticipate. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact This research tool has drawn the interest of co-researchers of a more technical persuasion working on design of e-cooking appliances ion the Modern Energy Cooking Services programme of DFID, for whom 'resilience' is a question of robustness to heavy use and mishaps. The tool was also picked up by researchers within the humanitarian field at the May 2019 conference of the Low Carbon Energy for Development Network. 
Description Association of Commonwealth Universities Climate Resilience Network 
Organisation Association of Commonwealth Universities
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution At the July 2019 meeting of the Association of Commonwealth Universities Climate Resilience Network in the University off West Indies, I joined the group in a workshop to share the potential contribution from my energy research to explore climate resilience, not only in energy, for the assembled researchers and academic administrators, who are concerned by the effects of typhoons and hurricanes in the West Indies and South Pacific. I have subsequently secured £6,000 from Durham University GCRF visiting fellow award, in order to further the collaboration with ACU CRN in order to link teaching modules at the universities in West Indies and South Pacific with interdisciplinary research about climate resilience ce that is relevant to local conditions and knowledge systems.
Collaborator Contribution The partners are assisting through their steering group how appropriate teams of researchers and academics could collaborate in the areas of energy infrastructure, teaching and learning, and research. The organisational facilitation of the Association of Commonwealth Universities is impressive, and I understand my contribution is to help leverage funding for the less advantaged institutions in the network, as well as offer research insights from the Energy on the Move project, and the energy networks of the Low Carbon Energy for Development Network.
Impact Funding from Durham University for Visiting Fellow in 2020.
Start Year 2019
Description Annual Symposium of Durham Energy Institute 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact During the September 25th Durham Energy Institute Annual Symposium, I led a 45 minute workshop explaining the Energy on the Move project, its research findings and intended impacts, to a mixed group of energy practitioners, entrepreneurs and postgraduates. Many questions came from those attending, including senior industrialists, and post-it notes were distributed and filled in for feedback to issues raised in the presentation.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
Description Electric cooking Impact workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We used the original project's good working relationship with an NGO in Bangladesh (Centre for Participatory Research abd Development) to organise a workshop based on the activity of cooking with various types of electric cookers, bringing attention to the vaklue of working with women including from informal settlements. This was filmed and the edit is still underway. The PI and research colleague Dr R Ferdous then visited in Bangladesh Energy and Power Resedarchy Centre in order to prepare them in advance for an invitation to nattend a workshop of energy research stakeholders.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
Description Nepal Country Consultative Group meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This was an introductory meeting for our research team and their organisations to meet other academics, energy professionals, NGOs and representatives from the Nepal Electricity Authority. The aim was to build up an understanding of what our project is aiming to do, pragmatically and intellectually, and invite feedback about our purpose and possibly receive advice about fieldsites we could research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description Nigeria and Bangladesh Country Consultative Group meetings 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Two sets of country consultative groups have been held in Bangladesh (Dhaka) and Nigeria (Abuja) to communicate the purpose of the research and who can find the outputs useful. A major purpose has been to make the discussion of energy issues something to involve more people than the normal community of technology interests and engineers, but bring gender dimensions to the fore. The conditions in informal settlements as regards energy poverty are not generally well known to many audiences. Policy on renewable energy generally ignores informal settlements.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description Second Nepal Country Consultative Group meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact On July 24th the four country teams from Nigeria, South Sudan, Nepal and Bangladesh presented their initial findings from project interviews from selected sites, and gave responses to questions from the mixed research stakeholder audience. This was the second CCG for Nepal. A TV channel made a recording which will be made available in edited form in due course.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018