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A research agenda for a people-centred approach to energy access in the urbanising global south

Castan broto, V; Stevens, L; Ackom, E; Tomei, J; Parikh, P; To, LS; Kirshner, J; (2017) A research agenda for a people-centred approach to energy access in the urbanising global south. Nature Energy , 2 pp. 776-779. 10.1038/s41560-017-0007-x. Green open access

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Abstract

Energy access is typically viewed as a problem for rural areas, but people living in urban settings also face energy challenges that have not received sufficient attention. A revised agenda in research and practice that puts the user and local planning complexities centre stage is needed to change the way we look at energy access in urban areas, to understand the implications of the concentration of vulnerable people in slums and to identify opportunities for planned management and innovation that can deliver urban energy transitions while leaving no one behind. Here, we propose a research agenda focused on three key issues: understanding the needs of urban energy users; enabling the use of context-specific, disaggregated data; and engaging with effective modes of energy and urban governance. This agenda requires interdisciplinary scholarship across the social and physical sciences to support local action and deliver large-scale, inclusive transformations. Most people without access to electricity and clean fuels live in rural areas1. Nevertheless, the challenges of energy access in urban areas are also considerable and attract policy attention. Over 880 million people live in slums in developing regions, in households that suffer multiple deprivations in urban services, space and security of tenure2. Such households routinely lack access to a reliable and affordable supply of electricity and clean fuels. About 105 million people lack electricity in urban areas in sub-Saharan Africa alone3. In countries such as Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda or Tanzania, less than half of the urban households have access to an electricity connection2. People living in urban areas face specific energy challenges, including unreliability of energy services, lack of affordability, lack of access to microfinance and insecurities related to tenure issues and the erroneous perceptions of slums4. Progress towards global objectives for universal energy access has been disappointing since the UN Secretary-General launched them in 2011. According to the Global Tracking Framework3, 1.05 billion people worldwide did not have access to electricity in 2014, down from 1.06 billion in 2012. The access rate increased by 0.27% per year, which is not sufficient to achieve the goal of universal electrification by 2030. The figures for access to clean cooking are even more discouraging: over 3 billion people still lacked access to clean fuels and technologies in 2014. With a rate of improvement of 0.46% a year, the goal of universal access to clean fuels and technologies by 2030 seems unachievable. The challenge of achieving universal access to modern energy services in urban areas highlights the strong linkages between two Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), SDG7 (Affordable and Clean Energy) and SDG11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities). Both SDGs can be advanced simultaneously through forms of inclusive urban planning that promote energy sustainability and resilience. This requires two changes in policy approaches. First, policies need to address the lack of installed capacity for energy access and limited availability of clean fuels, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa5. Addressing this persistent challenge will require a substantial amount of public finance while recognizing a diversity of feasible provision models6,7. Progress has concentrated in Asia, where multi-actor efforts in the context of industrialization have improved the rates of energy access in urban areas. For example, in Indonesia, a national-level programme including governmental institutions, businesses and consumers led to a large shift from kerosene to liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and contributed directly to the alleviation of extreme poverty8,9. In sub-Saharan Africa, in contrast, energy access rates remain stagnant. Energy access rates have even worsened in countries such as Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Second, there is a need to challenge dominant paradigms of energy provision. Unfortunately, the assumption that urbanization is akin to an extension of the electricity grid has long dominated debates of energy access in urban areas. This assumption puts a disproportionate emphasis on electrification at the expense of understanding the need for fuels and technologies for clean cooking10,11. Moreover, this assumption obscures the complex ways in which energy access barriers manifest in urban areas and, in particular, the specific limitations that emerge in inadequately serviced, informal or peri-urban areas12,13,14,15,16. Delivering sustainable energy access in urban areas requires a multidimensional understanding of users’ needs within diverse urban contexts. These two policy changes call for a renewed research agenda on universal access to sustainable energy in urban areas. In this Perspective, we outline such an agenda. We frame progress towards sustainable energy as a complex, multifaceted challenge in the next section. Delving deeper into why the global energy challenge continues to haunt contemporary societies in the age of urbanization, we then analyse barriers to energy access in urban areas. Finally, alongside a discussion of policy implications, we outline the contours of an interdisciplinary research agenda that considers users’ needs, explores data gaps and prioritizes systems of governance that can deliver urban energy services in a sustainable and equitable manner.

Type: Article
Title: A research agenda for a people-centred approach to energy access in the urbanising global south
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1038/s41560-017-0007-x
Publisher version: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41560-017-0007-x
Language: English
Additional information: This version is the author accepted manuscript. For information on re-use, please refer to the publisher’s terms and conditions.
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of Engineering Science
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of Engineering Science > Dept of Civil, Environ and Geomatic Eng
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of Engineering Science > STEaPP
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of the Built Environment
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of the Built Environment > Bartlett School Env, Energy and Resources
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of the Built Environment > UCL Institute for Global Prosperity
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1568273
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