Emerging forms of hybrid energy systems in cities of the global South: Summary of the Delhi Roundtable

Summary of Roundtable on « Emerging forms of hybrid energy systems in cities of the global South »
Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, 30th October 2018

Summary by Federico de Lorenzo and Bérénice Girard

Videos of the presentations are inserted below after the summary of each panel

Organizers and moderators: Marie-Hélène Zérah (IRD and Centre for Policy Research), Ankit Bhardwaj (Centre for Policy Research), Federico De Lorenzo (Sciences Po Paris), Augustin Delisle (Agence Française de Développement)
Speakers : Eric Verdeil (Centre for International Studies, Sciences Po Paris), Rémi de Bercegol (PRODIG, CNRS, Paris), Ankit Bhardwaj (Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi), Gaurang Sethi (Azure Power, India), Santosh Kumar Thakur (Energy Efficiency Services Limited, India)

Organized jointly by the Agence Française de Développement (AFD), the Centre for Policy Research (CPR) and the Centre de Recherches Internationales (CERI, Sciences Po) and hosted by the CPR, this roundtable brought together around 30 stakeholders from urban studies and the energy sector to discuss the coevolution of electricity supply systems and urban change in the Global South and understand how the imperative of energy transition translates in cities. The roundtable gathered researchers and academics from Indian and French institutions (such as TISS, CEER, CNRS), representatives from NGOs (Centre for Science and Environment, Shakti Sustainable Energy Foundation), private and public companies (such as Oracle Utilities, Maxop Engineering, India Smart Grid Forum), and international organizations (such as World Bank, International Solar Alliance, European Investment Bank and the German Developement Bank -KfW).

The roundtable started with a presentation of the ANR funded Hybridelec project by É. Verdeil. As cities of the Global South are experiencing fast economic and population growth, their electricity supply systems often lag behind (cuts, load-shedding, high prices, inadequate coverage…). In this context, public policy has mostly been focused on extending the grid and augmenting supply. However, this development is often not going fast enough and alternative responses emerge both in cities and in the intermediate spaces between them (generators, solar panels, batteries – different technologies bringing new opportunities and often transformed to suit the local needs). In this context, the Hybridelec project aims at thinking together local electric supply systems and urban change by focusing more specifically on the collective solutions, often socially more structuring and technically more complex, than conventional grid provision. How are these alternatives initiated, organized and regulated? How do they sustain and extend? What are the implications for the electrical system and the objectives of energy transition? Making the hypothesis of an increased heterogeneity of these systems rather than that of a convergence, the Hybridelec project wishes to go beyond the idea of delivery palliatives and uses the concept of hybridization to look at the long-lasting process of electrification and to understand the complex assemblages of actors, technical objects and institutions contributing to changing energy systems on the ground.
R. de Bercegol then presented his work on slum electrification in Nairobi, Kenya. Though, officially, the Kibera slum does not have electricity (due to unidentified land tenure), it is electrified, as cartels provide electricity by poaching it from the conventional network. In 2014, a new electrification project was launched in Kibera by the Kenya Power Corporation, justified by the publicly-declared goal of 100% electrification by 2030 and the technical, security and financial problems the illegal poaching leads to. Though there have been tensions in the past between engineers and slum dwellers, the situation seems to have improved in recent years as the power corporation resorted to different means of ensuring the sustainability of the grid connections: involvement of cartel members in the programme ; installation of prepaid and locked meters to avoid unpaid bills and tempering ; use of aluminium instead of copper for the wires to avoid theft, etc. R. de Bercegol then turned to the societal meaning of slum electrification, by showing how prepaid meters act as a depoliticization tool in a long-lasting power struggle, but also as an instrument to formalize poor consumers. Indeed, though they take part in the regularization of slum dwellers by acknowledging their right to live in the city, they also act as disciplining and punishing tools for the poorest consumers, who are not able to afford the conventional network’s electricity. The paradoxical consequences of the arrival of the grid were also underlined, such as changes in daily practices (households going back to charcoal to cook), rapid tempering of these same meters and continued predominance of the informal system of provision.

The two papers were followed by a rich discussion which mainly focused on how to reconcile two policy paradigms often seen as contradictory, namely centralized versus decentralized energy production. Several participants called for a change of perspective, as mini-grids are often seen by distribution companies as sources of potential loss of revenue and influence, and renewable energies are mostly developed in a centralized manner. In this context, how can we ensure a change of perspective from “centralized or decentralized” to “centralized and decentralized”? Taking the case of Beirut, É. Verdeil underlined how, as solutions first seen as temporary become more and more embedded in the conventional network, we observe a shift in representations amongst NGOs, international funding agencies and even ministries. Only the national or regional utilities in charge of production and distribution are still reluctant to promote these systems. However, one can hope that as more sustainable technologies develop on the ground these same utilities will get on board. Innovative solutions to provide electricity to Kibera were also discussed, such as user group connections, solar panels bought in bulk or batteries.
Based on a joint ongoing research with F. De Lorenzo and M.H. Zérah, A. Bhardwaj’s presentation focused on Indian Smart Cities. Even if energy is not generally framed as an urban issue, the Smart Cities Mission (SCM) seems to leave scope for cities to actively shape their energy systems. Findings from the analysis of the Smart Cities proposals offer some interesting insight in what energy management in the Indian Smart City would look like. Although in the proposals cities focused mostly on basic energy infrastructures (expansion of the power network, increasing energy production, etc.), there is considerable room for low-carbon technological improvement as well. In particular, the Smart Cities will direct their efforts towards four low-carbon technologies: solar (mostly rooftop), energy-efficient street lighting, E-mobility, and waste-to-energy. Smart meters receive surprisingly small investment. However, notwithstanding the significant budget planned for the four sectors overall, most of the cities do not seem to have envisioned a global low-carbon strategy, but rather each city seems to have selected some specific area(s) of action.
Head of Business and Project Development at Azure Power, G. Sethi presented the potential and challenges of the solar rooftop sector in India from a private company perspective. He first underlined the current favourable context for solar rooftop development in India: an ambitious programme launched by the Ministry for New and Renewable Energy for the installation of 40 GW of solar projects by 2022; an estimated 124GW solar rooftop potential in India; a supportive regulation and policy framework and a growing demand, mostly coming from the government sector but also from the industrial, commercial and, to a lesser extent, from the residential sectors. He underlined the important role the government sector plays as an initiator in the market, as well as the reduction in solar power tariffs over the last few years. He then turned to challenges the sector is currently facing: a focus which remains mostly on large solar utility; limitations regarding capacity installation, as discoms do not wish to see building owners become producers of energy; a lack of coordination between Central and State governments ; different requirements and regulations from State to State, but also the existence of unfavourable charges for supply through open access and the small number of tenders released by discoms to buy solar-produced energy.
S. K. Thakur offered an overview of EESL’s action as its General Manager of the street lighting division. EESL is a joint venture of four public companies which facilitates and provides support for the implementation of energy-efficient lighting projects in India. Availability of funding to start LED projects is the main challenge that urban local bodies are faced with. EESL can take on the initial investment for them. Moreover, it has been able to bring prices of LED down dramatically through demand aggregation and bulk procurement. The Street Lighting National Programme (SLNP) is one of the most successful initiatives undertook by EESL. Its target is to replace 13.4 million street lights with LED lighting in Indian towns and save 1,500 MW of energy. Drawing on its experience, EESL has adapted its business model to specific capacities of the urban local bodies and technical constraints. The agreement between EESL and local bodies includes support by the former for supply, installation, and maintenance (tasks delegated to different agencies) of the street lighting assets, other than financement. Poor infrastructures and repayment capacity of urban bodies are amongst the most common challenges the SLNP is faced with.

Throughout the second Q&A session, the debate focused on the role of urban authorities in shaping energy transitions in India, on the importance of access to accurate data, and on standards of quality of technologies. First, the view that the SCM represents an opportunity for local bodies to be leading actors of the urban energy transition, is challenged by a first-hand insight in the solar rooftop sector which shows that growth here has been primarily driven by tendering opportunities released by State and Central authorities. Second, data on the technical features of the places of transition are necessary both for authorities to set realistic targets and for implementing bodies. In particular, collection of reliable data on government buildings, along with the necessity to obtain several authorisations from the concerned bodies, represents a crucial question for Azure and the private sector in general. The complexity which Azure is faced with in implementation contrasts with EESL’s less-stringent requirement to have its agreement signed by the sole municipal commissioner. Last, while EESL’s primary concern is to expand the lighting network than meeting quality standards, in a PPA/RESCO business model (used by Azure), it is in the best interest of the developer to deliver high-quality technologies because they own the assets.

In conclusion, this roundtable showed the diversity and complexity of the possible pathways to energy transition in urban contexts. In the case of India, though use of REs is growing fast thanks to ambitious national schemes, decentralized energy production systems are facing many challenges such as a lack of capacity at the local and regional levels and paradoxical regulations and policies at the different stages of decision-making. The roundtable thus confirmed the necessity of in-depth fieldwork and continued discussions between policy-makers, stakeholders and academics to confront the mismatches between the declared ambitious objectives of energy transition and the local and technical constraints.

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