ARUA Centre of Excellence in Energy: UKRI GCRF Partnership Programme for Capacity Building

Lead Research Organisation: Stellenbosch University
Department Name: Process Engineering Building

Abstract

Africa is a continent blessed with immense human potential, but it faces a lot of complex and stubborn developmental challenges. Home-grown solutions to these challenges are slow to emerge as there is a drastic shortage of researchers on the continent, which means that there are not enough academics to do the research required nor are there enough academics to train the next generation of young researchers who need to do this research in future. On top of these constraints, tackling problems dealing with development is a complex and nuanced issue which needs the input from a lot of different scientific disciplines, but getting different disciplines to work together effectively on a common goal is a problem in itself.

The project sets out to tackle the shortage in research capacity in Africa by developing a set of training and research activities aimed at bringing young researchers on board, and by creating the opportunity for experienced researchers to also participate in research groups that span different scientific disciplines. The training of researchers will happen in two ways, (i) by a set of very targeted courses aimed at developing the skills required to plan and do good research, and to make the results useful to other groups of people who may want to use the results, and (ii) through setting up research groups around a particular problem, where the research groups will contain a mixture of young and experienced researchers, and researchers that look at the problem from different perspectives e.g. from engineering, agricultural or human and social perspectives. In this way, the development of young researchers will be accelerated so that more people are trained to take up and deal with the rigours of an academic career, while the opportunity for young researchers to learn from more experienced ones is invaluable to make sure that they receive good training.

The project will further focus specifically on topics of how renewable and sustainable energy can be applied in different African settings in an way that ensures that benefits are shared equally, and that different groups and specifically women get the opportunity to benefit. In particular, methods will be sought to employ renewable energy to benefit African small farmers and the entire food chain from farmer to market. Small farms and the distribution of products from these farmers is extremely important in Africa, as these small farmers collectively produce up to 70% of the continent's food, and any improvement that they can gain through using renewable energy in their farming and households is likely to make an important impact on their lives. However, in order to develop solutions that are successful and useful to them, one needs to approach the question form many different angles, including the type of technology, where and how to incorporate it into the farming or food chain activities, who are the people who will benefit, how they will benefit and whether the solution can be improved to make sure that a larger number of people will benefit. A further specific topic area will be on how renewable energy can be applied in large informal settlements to address scarcity to energy, and how to ensure that particularly women are empowered through renewable energy solutions.

Through taking a broad approach to renewable and sustainable energy issues in Africa, and combining dedicated training and research activities, the project hopes to make an important contribution to training the top class African researchers of tomorrow, and to broaden their knowledge on how to tackle some of the most pressing developmental concerns on the African continent by working together with researchers who may not be in the same field as themselves.

Planned Impact

There are a number of beneficiaries who will draw benefit from the project. The primary beneficiaries of capacity building projects will be academic researchers and institutions, particularly early career researchers but also more experienced researchers. Benefits will be through enhanced capability to engage in complex, interdisciplinary research that the addresses African developmental challenges. Outside of academic researchers, there are two main groups of beneficiaries: (i) African communities who were engaged with and formed part of co-generation of knowledge during the capacity-building-through-scoping-studies phase the work, and (ii) a group of wider stakeholders who were engaged and participated in stakeholder meetings and planning of scoping studies, and will include policy-makers, industry and industry bodies, other funding bodies, local economic development partners and NGO's.

Impact on African communities will be built around short, medium and long-term impact Short term impact is expected during community engagement and collaboration, through collaborative problem definition and exploration of the community's challenges and delineating potential solutions to these. Medium term impact is expected to be achieved through advocacy and awareness creation (both by scoping study researchers and by community members) within the community regarding RSE, and by feedback received from researchers regarding the work. Long term impact is expected through (i) involving the community in research and thereby creating opportunity for co-creation of relevant knowledge and to connect community members to other stakeholders in the project (see below), (ii) through creating opportunity for training in and learning about RSE technologies and their potential for addressing energy access and improving livelihoods within their own context, and (iii) addressing issues of inequality and gender within the context of energy access during the project. Throughout the project, the community engagement is a critical part of the capacity building through scoping studies; for this reason, impact activities will be built into projects and monitored in order to ensure that communities draw benefit from the work; specific budget is also allocated to community engagement which will further ensure that impact is realised.

The project's impact on the wider group of stakeholders will happen through joint activities linked to researcher training and capacity development, and particularly at annual scientific and stakeholder workshops where research will be planned collaboratively, and where progress and results of capacity building and scoping studies will be communicated. The impact on these stakeholders will include opportunity to contribute to design and execution of truly interdisciplinary scoping studies to ensure the research is relevant and valuable to them, connecting with other stakeholders in the field of RSE research and implementation thereby providing a platform for collaboration between the different stakeholders, getting opportunity to interact with early career researchers and potentially recruiting from the pool of young talent in future, and having the opportunity to guide the direction of future research in the field. Apart from the collective stakeholder involvement at workshops, individual stakeholders will also be engaged on a case to case basis, dependent on their needs. Different stakeholders from South African and other African countries will be included in the collaborative activities, and budget has been specifically allocated to stakeholder engagement and their involvement in the research.

Publications

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