Energy Solidarity in Latin America: generating inclusive knowledge and governance to address energy vulnerability and energy systems resilience

Lead Research Organisation: University of Birmingham
Department Name: Social Policy, Sociology and Criminology


Although Colombia, Cuba and Mexico report nearly 100% access to electricity, not all households are necessarily provided with good quality energy services, such as heating, cooling and use of appliances. In fact, around a third of Mexican households are unable to access an adequate level of energy services. Similarly, annual energy supply interruptions in Colombia add up to 38 hours per year. However, energy services are essential to wellbeing. Indeed, access to adequate, reliable, affordable and clean energy services underpins a range of human capabilities and when unmet, results in a situation of energy vulnerability (EV). A shortfall in realised energy services can be caused by various socio-technical, institutional and environmental factors, including: unreliable or poor quality infrastructure; gendered differences in energy access and use; high energy prices; social isolation; and stressors caused by intensifying climatic changes. The impacts of this are wide ranging, from adverse health, wellbeing, and social participation outcomes, to limited economic development.

There are no official EV-related strategies in the three countries, and each one is at a different stage in addressing the issue. In Cuba there has been no research or policy attention to EV; in Mexico, energy poverty is gaining increasing policy attention and a pilot monitoring observatory was launched last year; and Colombia has recognised energy poverty as a policy priority within the National Energy Plan, but has not yet instituted mechanisms for measurement or alleviation. Following collaborative workshops and in-person meetings with stakeholders during Spring 2019, this co-designed project (ESLatinA) responds to the urgent need for comprehensive understanding, evidence and governance capacity on EV in Colombia, Cuba and Mexico, in ways that are inclusive and recognise the diverse and dynamic nature of societies. Furthermore, ESLatinA explicitly acknowledges the link between EV and energy systems resilience, and the transformative potential of fostering energy solidarity, a concept that implies a paradigm shift in energy discourse that demands commitment, shared understanding, and people-focused frameworks. In recognition of the social and technical underpinnings of EV, ESLatinA has brought together a multi-disciplinary team of academics, policymakers and civil society representatives to develop socio-technical solutions via a comprehensive programme of multidisciplinary research and action. Our aim is to bring about systemic change for EV alleviation, whilst simultaneously enhancing energy system resilience, and fostering energy solidarity, as to maximise social welfare and equitable development. This will be achieved through wide ranging research and outputs, including bespoke local and national-level household surveys, generating in-depth qualitative data from participatory workshops, and producing innovative proposals for governance and legal frameworks. We will also establish national monitoring Observatories and a pan-Latin American network, and undertake national-scale energy systems vulnerability mapping and local-level assessment modelling. In culmination, we will produce cross-cutting knowledge based capacity-building and socio-technical solutions, including a diagnosis toolkit, energy literacy workshops, community exhibits, and bespoke National and Local Action Plans; all this from the inclusive perspective of energy solidarity, which is anchored on energy justice.

Planned Impact

The impact will be commensurate with the ambitions of this international collaborative project, which is to bring about sustainable energy systems in a way that maximises social welfare and equitable development by co-creating inclusive and transformative understanding, evidence and governance to alleviate energy vulnerability (EV) and foster resilience in energy systems and societies within Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and beyond. The team members have broad experience in engaging with stakeholders to co-creating knowledge and solutions to key challenges. Most notably, PI Thomson was awarded the ESRC's Outstanding Early Career Impact Prize in 2017 for her role in shaping the development and framing of EU energy poverty legislation.

Beneficiaries - The diverse outputs of this project will benefit a range of stakeholders, namely:

-Policymakers and the private sector, who will benefit from high quality multi-dimensional evidence on the unique characteristics and needs of EV households, replicable survey instruments for more nuanced measurement of SDG7, practical toolkits, capacity-building material, and Local and National Action Plans.

-Academics, through the fostering of multidisciplinary collaboration that bridges divides across intellectual traditions and identifies gaps in extant academic literature and determines key areas for future research.

-Other research users, including advocacy groups and NGOs, via the provision of open access data and publications, resulting in improved understanding of EV issues, and the interrelation with resilient energy systems.

-Households and communities, via our Participatory Action Research, photography and digital storytelling, and energy literacy workshops, which will foster the ability of communities to recognise, respond to, and communicate their energy stories, as well as address key gaps in knowledge and behaviour, e.g. concerning consumer rights.

Activities to ensure benefit - The proposed research design explicitly recognises the importance of the interface between academics and non-academic stakeholders, and has incorporated numerous elements and activities to involve users at all stages of research:

1)The involvement of 'thought leaders' - including policy actors, private sector representatives, and academics - as 'critical friends' on the Project Advisory Committee.

2)At least six key stakeholder workshops. Using participatory and deliberative methods, these workshops will identify coalitions of actors and relevant governance mechanisms, and extent conceptual understanding of EV.

3)Relationship-building, meetings, and targeted consultation with stakeholders between workshops.

4)Participatory Action Research workshops with communities, to provide alternative perspectives 'from the ground', essential for representing marginalised groups in the development of more inclusive and human-centred energy systems.

5)Providing a community-level learning programme consisting of public science talks by the researchers, demonstrations of sustainable energy technologies, and film screenings with guided debates.

6)Creating national monitoring Observatories in Colombia and Cuba, and further developing an existing Observatory in Mexico. Each website will contain open access data and publications to aid stakeholder understanding of EV;

7)Launching a pan-Latin America network on energy poverty, utilising consortium contacts in Brazil, Chile, and Panama, in order to generate wider conceptual and instrumental impacts. As part of the network we will host a high-profile international conference in Chile, and provide up to 5 travel bursaries.

8)Numerous targeted policy briefs, high-impact academic papers, social media posts, and press releases.

9)Attendance at professional conferences to share research findings and constructively engage in enhancing critical thinking in these fora.


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