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

Abstract

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.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused the postponement of all travel, face-to-face meetings, and community-based fieldwork activities in 2020, as well as wider administrative delays, our team has made strong progress with addressing Objective 1 of the ESLatinA project: Radically transform the extent, depth, and focus of energy vulnerability knowledge within Latin America.

Using secondary statistical data and documentary data, our research establishes the state-of-the-art in knowledge and policy on energy poverty for Latin America and the Caribbean, and makes in-depth assessments for Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, and Mexico. We identify key differences in the geographies of energy poverty identified by different metrics, with energy services-based approaches generally indicating higher vulnerability within rural areas, while energy expenditure metrics point towards higher risk levels in urban areas. We also find a dominance of quantitative approaches that tend to use existing (and often limited) forms of survey data, and a relative absence of detailed qualitative research. As such, we argue there is an urgent need for transformative research and policy activities within Latin America and the Caribbean, in order to support access to clean, reliable, and affordable energy services for all. Two collaboratively written journal articles are currently under review, and additional work is underway to continue this line of activity.

Progress has also been made towards Objective 2: Build capacities at multiple scales within academia, communities, and policy institutions. Work to establish a pan-Latin American network on energy poverty has resulted in a new Red de Energías Solidarias (Red EESS), which so far has 304 followers on Twitter and commitment from several stakeholders across Latin America to contribute guest articles for a soon to be launched network website. Another activity has been the creation of a rapid response online course, which was developed and launched during the summer of 2020. The course, Future Energy Landscapes: Fostering Capacities in the Face of Change (FEL), is a free bilingual online course that was developed in just 2 months with colleagues from the Institute of Renewable Energies at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (IER-UNAM). The motivation for FEL's development was to support efforts to build back better from Covid-19 by building capacities among students, policymakers, and civil society actors. This rapid-response course sought to equip students with the skills and knowledge needed to develop energy research projects that foreground justice, intersectionality, and multidisciplinarity, based on action-based learning and project development.

FEL featured guest contributions from more than 40 leading experts worldwide, including one of Mexico's top sci-fi writers, Bernardo Fernández. Enrollment for the first version of the course closed early after 115 people signed up from across Latin America, including from Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru. A shortlisted group of 30 people participated in the 6 week course, during which time students covered topics such as the principles of energy justice and intersectionality, how to take an ethically sensitive approach to research; the tensions and opportunities presented by a shared 'right to energy'; and the resilience and flexibility that can be built into energy systems. In all, students were provided with the basic tools needed to foster inclusive knowledge societies. The team is now working on creating a shorter free self-paced Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) to widen distribution of the course materials.
Exploitation Route The current outcomes of ESLatinA research can be used to inform, influence and shape policy debates around the planning and management of energy, by providing comprehensive evidence on energy vulnerability in Latin America and the Caribbean. Direct conceptual impacts will arise in the short term by increasing visibility of energy vulnerability as a pressing societal challenge that can be addressed within the framework of energy systems resilience and energy solidarity. Information exchange and policy learning will lead to capacity building impacts as stakeholders develop a more inclusive understanding of core issues and develop their relevant technical, theoretical and analytical skills. The DAC beneficiaries are principally Cuba, Colombia, Mexico, however, we also expect impacts to accrue in other Latin American and Caribbean countries, such as Argentina and Brazil.
Sectors Energy,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice

 
Description There are emerging conceptual impacts arising from a policy advisory meeting with Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL), who are currently developing an energy poverty definition and action plan for the G20, which has direct implications for SDG 7 Affordable and Clean Energy. During a project meeting in early March 2021, the PI reported early findings from the ESLatinA project, most significantly from a journal manuscript that is currently under review entitled 'Varieties of Energy Poverty in Latin America and the Caribbean: State of the Art and Future Directions'. The aforementioned manuscript provides in-depth assessments of evidence on energy poverty for Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, and Mexico, and was jointly written with policymakers and academics from these five countries. In addition, the manuscript makes proposals to address important gaps in energy poverty research and policy for Latin America and the Caribbean. The PI agreed to produce a short briefing document for SEforAll to input into the proposed G20 energy poverty definition and action plan. A key challenge in relation to this impact activity is that our participatory community fieldwork has been postponed due to COVID-19 related restrictions on travel and social distancing.
First Year Of Impact 2021
Sector Energy,Environment
Impact Types Societal,Policy & public services

 
Description BAORGG partnership 
Organisation BAORGG SAPI de CV
Country Mexico 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Co-I Karla Cedano approached Santiago Barcón of BAORGG in Mexico during project development to invite to join the Project Advisory Committee.
Collaborator Contribution Participation in the ESLatinA Project Advisory Committee. Unfortunately face-to-face meetings have been delayed due to COVID-19.
Impact No impacts as yet.
Start Year 2020
 
Description DEBISAMCO Corporation Partnership 
Organisation Debisamco Corporation
Country Colombia 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution PI approached DEBISAMCO Corporation during project development to invite to collaborate on local community activities in Colombia.
Collaborator Contribution DEBISAMCO Corporation agreed to support access to communities previously mistreated by energy projects, however, the University of Birmingham's due diligence processes were not successfully completed.
Impact No impacts.
Start Year 2019
 
Description IIASA partnership 
Organisation International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis
Country Austria 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution PI approached the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Austria during project development to invite to join the Project Advisory Committee.
Collaborator Contribution Participation in the ESLatinA Project Advisory Committee. Unfortunately face-to-face meetings have been delayed due to COVID-19.
Impact No impacts as yet.
Start Year 2020
 
Description Ministry of Energy and Mines Partnership 
Organisation Ministry of Energy and Mines
Country Cuba 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Co-I Manuel Rubio approached the Ministry of Energy and Mines in Cuba during project development to invite to join the Project Advisory Committee.
Collaborator Contribution Participation in the ESLatinA Project Advisory Committee. Unfortunately face-to-face meetings have been delayed due to COVID-19.
Impact No impacts as yet.
Start Year 2020
 
Description National University of Colombia partnership 
Organisation National University of Colombia
Country Colombia 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution PI approached the National University of Colombia during project development to invite to join the Project Advisory Committee.
Collaborator Contribution Participation in the ESLatinA Project Advisory Committee. Unfortunately face-to-face meetings have been delayed due to COVID-19.
Impact No impacts as yet.
Start Year 2020
 
Description Onergia Partnership 
Organisation Onergia
Country Mexico 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Several members of the team from the UK, Mexico and Cuba took part in participatory workshops in Mexico as part of bid development, during which a collaboration with Onergia was established.
Collaborator Contribution Onergia as providing in-kind usage of their renewable energy demo-kits, as well as important access to an historically excluded community in Mexico.
Impact No impacts as yet.
Start Year 2019
 
Description Placetas Municipal Assembly Partnership 
Organisation Placetas Municipal Assembly
Country Cuba 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Several members of the team from the UK, Mexico and Cuba visited Villa Clare as part of participatory bid development work. During this visit, a partnership was secured with the Placetas Municipal Assembly to support local research activities.
Collaborator Contribution Placetas Municipal Assembly agreed to make community spaces available for local research activities, and to support the exhibit set up and promotion
Impact No impacts as yet.
Start Year 2019
 
Description University of Twente partnership 
Organisation University of Twente
Country Netherlands 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution PI approached the University of Twente in the Netherlands during project development to invite to join the Project Advisory Committee.
Collaborator Contribution Participation in the ESLatinA Project Advisory Committee. Unfortunately face-to-face meetings have been delayed due to COVID-19.
Impact No impacts as yet.
Start Year 2020
 
Description Villa Clara Provincial Government Partnership 
Organisation Villa Clara Provincial Government
Country Cuba 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Several members of the team from the UK, Mexico and Cuba visited Villa Clare as part of participatory bid development work. During this visit, a partnership was secured with the Provincial Government to support local research activities.
Collaborator Contribution Villa Clara Provincial Government agreed to make community spaces available for local research activities, and to support the development of a local monitoring observatory.
Impact No impacts as yet.
Start Year 2019