GEMdev: Grounded Energy Modelling for equitable urban planning development in the global South

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Bartlett Sch of Env, Energy & Resources


Grounded Energy Modelling for equitable urban planning in the global South (GEMDev) is a partnership between UCL (London), FCPV and PUCP (Lima) and CDRF-CEPT (Ahmedabad), which aims to create new knowledge to ground energy planning tools in the realities of everyday life and energy practices of off-grid communities.

Insecure and informal access to energy impacts on all aspects of life for poor communities living in sub-standard housing in the global South. Access to affordable, reliable and safe forms of energy services has particularly profound effects on health and economic opportunities. However, the ways in which these communities access and use energy in their day-to-day lives are poorly understood. The ways in which those practices change when informal settlements are upgraded or relocated are equally poorly understood.

As data-driven approaches to energy planning, such as Urban Building Energy Models (UBEMs), gain increasing importance as planning tools, this lack of understanding risks further marginalising the most vulnerable communities as their needs are either entirely overlooked or planned solutions fail to address their needs. UBEMs have been developed in, and widely applied to, cities in the global North to model urban energy consumption on a building by building basis, allowing the assessment of impacts of different energy conservation measures and policies. Such tools are highly attractive to energy planners in the global South, but the complexity of informal settlements is wholly absent from these models at present.

GEMDev will use participatory research methods to co-create datasets with marginalised communities to ensure that they are represented in the UBEMs of the future. Engaging these communities in the creation of the knowledge and datasets in order to represent them in energy planning tools is a highly novel approach which not only ensures meaningful recognition, but, through the research process itself, increases communities' capacity and skills, amplifying their voice in the planning processes that have profound impacts on their lives.

Lima and Ahmedabad have been selected as the cases for application of the GEMDev project for both methodological and practical reasons. From a methodological perspective, both are global cities characterised by significant inequalities in access to energy and other services but with very different histories of development and policies for addressing the needs of the urban poor. From a practical perspective, we will build on strong existing research partnerships in both cities. The UCL/FCPV partnership in Lima contributes expertise in participatory methods and strong engagement with municipal authorities, while capacity in building energy modelling will be built through an innovative approach between private and public universities, PUCP and UNI. The UCL/CDRF-CEPT partnership in Ahmedabad contributes expertise in energy modelling and the project will build capacity in participatory methods. The strong focus on South-South knowledge transfer is a key example of the equitable partnerships which underpin this project.

GEMDev will deliver a robust, co-produced evidence base on energy practices, use of space and urban form in Lima and Ahmedabad. This will be used to not only support the local development of UBEMs for these cities, but also to co-create alternative archetypes of the off-grid city. These findings can inform city, national and regional policies that support the delivery of multiple Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), including SDG7 on energy, SDG11 on sustainable cities and communities, and beyond. The inclusion of partners and stakeholders in developing this proposal will help to ensure the project delivers real and long-lasting change for marginalised, off-grid communities in the global South.

Planned Impact

GEMDev aims to enable inclusive decision-making towards dignified housing and habitat for all through the co-production of methodologies and tools to inform energy alternative futures and concrete possibility at three different scales - individual, neighbourhood and city - in Lima and Ahmedabad. The project will produce:
- Locally-owned models of communities, mapping their shared spaces, energy and social practices and physical risks and potential for renewable technologies;
- Open-source models and data sets of energy use in informal settlements;
- Archetypes for redevelopment and upgrading of off-grid communities, which are optimised to the needs of communities, including safe and adequate housing with thermal comfort, reduced energy consumption and enabling adequate habitat for all;
- Open negotiation and dialogue spaces to build synergies between actors from different spheres (national and local government, academia, civil society groups, NGOs).

Our aim is to use the data co-generated by the project to address the lack of representation of the urban poor in energy models, informing pathways towards dignified housing and habitat for all within a sustainable energy future. The approach taken by GEMDev embeds engagement and impact throughout the life of the project and will have the following beneficiaries:
- Inhabitants of off-grid settlements in Lima and Ahmedabad will be empowered through engagement in the research process (I1), leading to the co-production of information and knowledge for energy access and inclusive urban planning (I2). A public exhibition in each city that documents alternative development archetypes and transition stories will be used to engage with citizens beyond those in the selected off-grid settlements (I3). Inhabitants of off-grid settlements will also benefit from improved awareness and knowledge of: safe, clean energy alternatives; trade-offs in investments to improve living conditions; environmental-related health hazards; energy efficiency leading to lower energy bills (I12).
- Energy assessors. Inhabitants of off-grid settlements will be trained as energy assessors, training them in data collection and enabling them to provide advice on energy efficiency and safety as well as risk identification thus enhancing employability (I4).
- National and regional research institutions will benefit from the creation of open-source models and datasets on energy and buildings (I5). Capacity building activities will strengthen the capabilities of the research team and other researchers working in energy and urban planning, and ensure research outputs are used beyond the project lifetime (I6).
- NGOs working in off-grid settlements will benefit from an improved understanding of the linkages between energy and housing, leading to better informed policies and programmes (I7). The creation of dialogue spaces will open up opportunities for greater collaboration with other stakeholders (I8).
- Policymakers and international organisations will benefit from the creation of new tools and technologies for managing the territory and informing decision making (I13), and production of a robust evidence on energy needs and inclusive urban planning in off-grid settlements (I9). Policy briefs (I10), exhibitions (I3) and a project website (I11) will ensure outputs are tailored to the evidence needs of policymakers in both settings and beyond. Research outputs will inform the development of policies and programmes to support the delivery of local and national social and economic development and achievement of the SDGs.


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