[thèse] Alix Chaplain, Désintégration sociotechnique et territoriale au Liban. Le cas de l’électricité

Alix Chaplain soutiendra sa thèse de doctorat en études urbaines, Désintégration sociotechnique et territoriale au Liban. Le cas de l’électricité, préparée sous la direction d’Éric Verdeil, le 14 décembre 2023. Cette thèse a bénéficié du financement de l’Agence nationale de la recherche dans le cadre du projet Hybridelec.

Jury : Marco Cremaschi, Sciences Po; Mona Harb, Université américaine de Beyrouth (rapportrice) ; Sylvy Jaglin, Université Gustave Eiffel ; Francesca Pilo’, Université d’Utrecht ; Sébastien Velut, Université Paris 3-Sorbonne Nouvelle (rapporteur).

Résumé (english below)

Depuis plus de trente ans, le quotidien des Libanais est rythmé par des coupures d’électricité, qui faute des réformes et investissements nécessaires dans les infrastructures publiques, ne cessent de s’aggraver. Jusqu’en 2021, l’opérateur national Électricité du Liban (EDL), impose un rationnement allant de 3 à 12 heures par jour selon les localités, et atteignant depuis des pics de 22 heures. Le réseau public est pourtant présent sur plus de 99% du territoire national, mais EDL ne s’est jamais totalement relevé de la guerre civile, et sa capacité de production d’électricité est bien inférieure à la demande. Loin d’être passifs face à cette situation, les Libanais mobilisent des dispositifs diversifiés d’approvisionnement pour sécuriser leur fourniture d’électricité en complément du réseau public intermittent. Dès la fin de la guerre civile, l’usage individuel et solidaire du générateur diesel se développe, pour ensuite devenir l’objet d’un commerce lucratif, des opérateurs privés de mini-réseaux fournissant des abonnements mensuels d’électricité. En parallèle, depuis une dizaine d’années, les consommateurs investissent dans des dispositifs photovoltaïques en complément du générateur. Dans ce contexte, le réseau conventionnel n’est plus le mode dominant de fourniture : usagers et fournisseurs développent des modèles diversifiés, et de plus en plus complexes, pour pallier les coupures d’EDL et optimiser leur accès à l’électricité.

Le point de départ de cette recherche est donc celui d’une hétérogénéisation structurelle des pratiques, des acteurs, et des dispositifs d’accès à l’électricité au Liban. Or, non seulement cette diversité coexiste avec le réseau, mais elle transforme son système sociotechnique. Ce processus est caractérisé dans ce travail par le concept d’« hybridation », qualifiant les interactions et les interdépendances croissantes entre une diversité de dispositifs sociotechniques et le réseau conventionnel. En croisant la littérature des Science and Technology Studies (STS), de l’écologie politique urbaine, et un corpus de travaux sur la politisation des infrastructures au Liban, la thèse démontre que les hybridations électriques sont façonnées par deux principales variables. D’un côté, en articulant différents dispositifs sociotechniques (générateurs, batteries, panneaux solaires), et en modulant leur relation avec le réseau conventionnel, les usagers régulent les interdépendances entre ces systèmes diversifiés. De l’autre, différents acteurs ayant leurs propres objectifs et rationalités instrumentalisent les dispositifs électriques à des fins politiques, selon des modalités et échelles différenciées.

Ces arrangements sociotechniques et politico-territoriaux contribuent à différencier les conditions d’accès à l’électricité, et à aggraver les inégalités entre des usagers multi-connectés, car disposant de ressources politiques, économiques, sociales, territoriales, etc., et les autres consommateurs, dépourvus de solutions alternatives au réseau défaillant. Avec un phénomène de dislocation, de fragmentation, et d’atomisation, non régulé des pratiques électriques, dans leur forme actuelle les hybridations mettent en tension les interdépendances et solidarités associées au réseau. Ainsi, à travers le cas du Liban, cette recherche pose une question à l’intersection entre le défi de décarboner les mix électriques et celui de garantir un accès équitable à l’électricité : quelle « transition énergétique » dans un contexte de crise chronique d’électricité ?

Sociotechnical and territorial disintegration in Lebanon. The case of electricity.

PhD supervised by Eric Verdeil, Professeur des universités, IEP de Paris

Abstract

For the past thirty years, the daily lives of the Lebanese people have been punctuated by power cuts, which are continually getting worse in the absence of the necessary reforms and investments in public infrastructure. Until 2021, the national operator, Électricité du Liban (EDL), resorted to rationing from 3 to 12 hours a day depending on the area, reaching peaks of 22 hours. Although the public grid covers more than 99 % of the national territory, EDL has never fully recovered from the civil war, and its electricity production capacity is well below demand. Far from being passive, the Lebanese are mobilising diversified systems to secure their electricity supply to supplement the intermittent public grid. Since the end of the civil war, individual use of diesel generators has been growing, and has become a lucrative business. Private operators of mini-grids provide monthly electricity subscriptions. At the same time, over the last ten years or so, consumers have been investing in photovoltaic systems to supplement their generators. In this context, the conventional grid is no longer the dominant mode of supply: users and suppliers are developing diversified and increasingly complex models to compensate for EDL power cuts and optimise their access to electricity.

The starting point of this research is the structural heterogeneity of practices, actors, and systems for access to electricity in Lebanon. This diversity not only coexists with the grid, but also transforms its socio-technical system. This process is characterised in this research by the concept of ‘hybridisation’, which describes the growing interactions and interdependencies between a diversity of socio-technical devices and the conventional grid. Combining the literature of Science and Technology Studies (STS), urban political ecology, and a body of work on the politicisation of infrastructures in Lebanon, the dissertation demonstrates that electrical hybridisations are shaped by two main variables. On the one hand, by articulating different socio-technical devices (generators, batteries, solar panels), and by modulating their relationship with the conventional grid, users regulate the interdependencies between these diverse systems. On the other hand, various actors with their own objectives and rationales instrumentalise electrical devices for political purposes, in different ways and on different scales. These socio-technical and politico-territorial arrangements contribute to the differentiation of access conditions to electricity and exacerbate inequalities between multi-connected, users who have political, economic, social, and territorial resources, and other consumers, who have no alternative solutions to the failing grid. With the unregulated dislocation, fragmentation and atomisation of electrical practices, hybridisation in its current form is placing a strain on the interdependence and solidarity associated with the national grid. Through the case of Lebanon, this research raises a question at the intersection between the challenge of decarbonising electricity mixes and that of guaranteeing equitable access to electricity: which “energy transition” is possible in a context of chronic electricity crisis?

[new publication] Solar Rooftop Systems and the Urban Transition: Shall the Twain Ever Meet? Interrogations from Rewari, India

We are happy to announce the publication of this article, part of the theme issue “Electrical Hybridizations in Cities of the South: From Heterogeneity to New Conceptualizations of Energy Transition”:

M. Zérah, S. Das, Solar Rooftop Systems and the Urban Transition: Shall the Twain Ever Meet? Interrogations from Rewari, India, Journal of Urban Technology. 30 (2023) 103–125. https://doi.org/10.1080/10630732.2023.2172305.

Abstract:

India is facing two major transitions. In 2040, its energy demand will double while 800 million Indians will live in cities by 2050. Situated at this intersection, this article contributes to the field of urban energy research by looking at Solar Rooftop Systems (SRS) in a district located in the extended periphery of Delhi. Using a multi-pronged qualitative methodology in a corridor made of villages and small towns, we argue that public policies are framed applying a rigid territorial grid opposing urban and rural, ignoring the motivations of both residential and professional users, which are not bounded by the rural/urban binary. This disjunction explains that renewable energy does not lead to a new imagination of urban and energy systems. These two fields remain disconnected while solar energy fuels consumption and the city expansion in its peripheries. Finally, the observed variegated urban energy landscapes (UEL) embody a land and energy intensive form of urban growth.

[new publication] Electrical Hybridizations in Cities of the South: From Heterogeneity to New Conceptualizations of Energy Transition

We are happy to announce the publication of the introduction to the theme issue in the Journal of Urban Technology, under the above mentioned title.

The full quote is: É. Verdeil, S. Jaglin, Electrical Hybridizations in Cities of the South: From Heterogeneity to New Conceptualizations of Energy Transition, Journal of Urban Technology. 30 (2023) 1–10. https://doi.org/10.1080/10630732.2023.2172301.

Abstract:
This issue addresses the hybridization of urban electricity configurations in cities of the Global South. The hybridization process is shaped by the interplay of two infrastructural trends that transform cities, the patchy and limited extension of the conventional grid and the widespread socio-technical heterogeneity that recent research has highlighted. The case studies presented in the issue vary according to two main criteria. First, they straddle a wide variety of urban settlements, from city-center and relatively wealthy districts to poor areas and urbanizing peripheries. They also take into consideration various stages in the development of the grid and their uneven levels of service, between dynamic deployment pushed by state techno-politics and situations of regress or even collapse, forcing users to adapt. Two cross-cutting results emerge. First, the widespread and ever extending heterogeneity does not eliminate the grid but transforms it through various material and institutional interfaces and intermediations aiming at securing energy supply and operations. Second, the process makes way for an increased presence of private actors. These trends leave a twofold question unanswered. How and with which policies and tools to govern the hybridized energy configurations in order to promote energy justice and to enable clean energy transitions?

[English translation of] Negotiations, mobilisations and everyday reproduction of electricity infrastructures in Ibadan (Nigeria)

We are happy to announce the publication of the English translation of Mélanie Rateau’s article “Negotiations, mobilisations and everyday reproduction of electricity infrastructures in Ibadan (Nigeria)” in Flux, 2023. Online at https://www.cairn-int.info/journal-flux-2022-3-page-44.htm

Abstract

This paper explores the everyday and negotiated reproduction of electricity infrastructures in Ibadan (Nigeria) in the midst of a deep crisis in the electricity sector. The study focuses not on the activities of the institutions and workers officially in charge of the service, but on the relations and interactions between urban residents and the electricity company, and on the ordinary practices of access to electricity in order to examine how and by whom the infrastructures are maintained in a relatively functional state. The community mobilisations, negotiations and compromises around official norms and the securing practices observed turn out to be ambivalent: they help keep local infrastructures in operation on a day-to-day basis, but threaten the overall economic and technical balance of the sector. Finally, the study demonstrates the importance of paying attention to both the mobilisation and negotiation within the grid and the securing practices, whether on- or off-grid, because of their functional interdependence.

[new publication] Urban Electric Hybridization: Exploring the Politics of a Just Transition in the Western Cape (South Africa)

We are happy to announce the release of Sylvy Jaglin’s article “Urban Electric Hybridization: Exploring the Politics of a Just Transition in the Western Cape (South Africa)” in The Journal of Urban Technology (ahead of press), 2023. Online at https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10630732.2022.2111176

Abstract:

Focusing on the adoption of rooftop solar photovoltaics (PV) by high-income households and businesses in the Western Cape, South Africa, the article analyzes its effects on the hybridization of urban electricity systems and the ability of municipalities to drive a just transition in cities where inequality remains very high. By reducing municipal electricity sales, decentralized solar technologies threaten the surpluses generated from charges paid by grid customers, which are essential to subsidize electricity services for the poor and support other municipal services. Based on fieldwork in four Western Cape cities, the paper shows that municipalities are implementing a variety of local arrangements (regulatory, tariff, and technical) to control distributed electricity generation and are seeking, with mixed success, to avoid a post-carbon transition model that undermines grid benefits by creating a new energy divide.

[new publication] Governing Hybridized Electricity Systems: The Case of Decentralized Electricity in Lebanon

Chaplain A. et Verdeil É., 2022, Governing Hybridized Electricity Systems: The Case of Decentralized Electricity in Lebanon, Journal of Urban Technology, ahead of print, https://doi.org/10.1080/10630732.2022.2105587

Policymakers see decentralized electricity supply as a way to both decarbonize energy systems and to fill the gap of electricity access in many countries where strong growth leave the grid lagging behind. This article sheds some light on the case of countries such as Lebanon, where diesel-fueled decentralized electricity systems have existed for years and increasingly coexist with, rather than being replaced by, solar powered systems. It is based on a synthesis of public quantitative data and qualitative information gathered through surveys. The article argues that understanding such dynamics involves an analysis, not only of the technological and socioeconomic determinants of the adoption of decentralized energy technologies but also of the political struggles between the various actors, with a particular focus on corporate actors, and wealthy users. In addition, the article shows how different political temporalities play in reproducing or opening the assemblage of technologies and interests that shape the hybridized energy landscape. The article also shows that hybridization has repercussions on the energy configuration as a whole, both in the evolving market share of each technology but also by deeply fragmenting the access to electricity along social and territorial lines and by pushing essential private actors to disconnect from the grid. As a conclusion, the promises of sustainable transitions need to be critically examined in light of these trends.

[new publication] Mini-Grids at the Interface: The Deployment of Mini-Grids in Urbanizing Localities of the Global South

Mini-grid observed in Senegal (Keur Madiaye Fatim)
Source: Authors

We are happy to announce the latest article from our Hybridelec research: Guillou, Emmanuelle, and Bérénice Girard. 2022. « Mini-Grids at the Interface: The Deployment of Mini-Grids in Urbanizing Localities of the Global South ». Journal of Urban Technology 0 (0): 1‑20. (Online first)

https://doi.org/10.1080/10630732.2022.2087170.

Abstract

Based on fieldwork conducted in Senegal, Tanzania, and India, this article argues for a territorialized approach to mini-grids. One of the most sought-after solutions to electrification and transition to renewable energies in the Global South, mini-grids can be defined as decentralized collective systems of electricity supply. Whereas the academic and grey literature has mostly focused on their presence in rural areas, this paper looks at their development in urbanizing localities. It documents access to electrical service in these spaces and shows that, behind the rather uniform vision associated with the mini-grid object, the service provided takes different forms depending on the environment in which it is deployed. The presence of mini-grids also raises issues of social and territorial equity of access to essential services. A territorialized approach to mini-grids, therefore, furthers our understanding of the complex energy changes at work in cities of the Global South.

[New Publication] Urban transition and domestic electrification in East Africa

We are happy to announce Rémi de Bercegol’s publication of

Urban transition and domestic electrification in East Africa: The diversification of energy in the peripheries of Dar Es Salaam

in Territoires en Mouvement, https://journals.openedition.org/tem/8479

This is a translation of the already published article in the same journal : Transition urbaine et électrification domestique en Afrique de l’Est: La diversification énergétique des périphéries de Dar Es Salaam

Abstract:

In the remote districts of the Dar Es Salaam periphery, low density and urban sprawl do not facilitate connection to basic urban infrastructures. Through the analysis of the district of Ilala, this article focuses on the modalities and effects of electrification of these areas located at the end of the network. Strongly supported by the inhabitants, TANESCO’s access to electricity is finally made possible, thanks to the subsidized extension of its networks, thus quickly relegating the few off-grid backup electrical systems (generators, solar systems). But counter-intuitively, the arrival of electricity does not mean that other pre-existing energy sources (such as kerosene and coal) disappear. In these intermediate areas between the city and the countryside, there is rather an ‘energy diversification’, resulting from the widening of the available offers: users quickly adopt electricity to access new services more easily (television, refrigerator, light bulb) while continuing to prefer non-electric energy for other domestic uses (cooking and ironing with coal, for example; or occasional lighting and rapid cooking with kerosene). Less expensive, easily available, requiring minimal equipment, these so-called traditional energies will continue to be used alongside new exclusively electrical uses. This diversification is neglected in the country’s energy strategy, which focuses on electricity despite the financial difficulties in implementing it. Documented in the literature, the explanatory factors of household fuel choices are usually centered on user practices, but more rarely placed in a broader perspective of understanding energy governance. By revealing the structural factors of energy diversification in intermediate spaces undergoing electrification, this article contributes to the reflections on the particularities of the energy transition in order to better understand the particularities of African urbanization.

Alix Chaplain and Eric Verdeil contributed to the seminar Models for Tackling Lebanon’s Electricity Crisis

The Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy at the American University of Beirut hosted a seminar about Models for Tackling Lebanon’s Electricity Crisis, in partnership with the SOAS-Anti Corruption-Evidence initiative. The seminar featered two researchers from AUB working on a project about the recent reform of electricty management in the city of Zahle, which allowed a 24/7 electricity supply through a private company. In addition, Dr Hassan Harajli from UNDP CEDRO and Alix Chaplain, PhD candidate at Sciences Po-CERI and a researcher in the Hybridelec project. Their presented were discussed by Eric Verdeil (Sciences Po CERI and Hybridelec project leader), Jamil Mouawad (AUB) and Pallavi Roy (SOAS University).

Read the Briefing paper: Ahmad, Ali, et al. « Models for tackiling Lebanon’s electricity crisis ». The Policy Practice/Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs, 2021, p. 1‑12.

To know more, read the working paper on Zahle’s model and Alix’ work:

Ali Ahmad, Neil McCulloch, Muzna Al-Masri, Marc Ayoub, From dysfunctional to functional corruption: The politics of reform in Lebanon’s electricity sector, Working Paper Anti-Corruption Evidence. Making Anti-Corruption Real. (2020) 1–55.

Chaplain, Alix. « L’émergence de mini-réseaux hybrides d’électricité au Liban : vers une différenciation territoriale des dispositifs de fourniture énergétique ». Billet. Les carnets de l’Ifpo (blog). En ligne: https://ifpo.hypotheses.org/10952.

[New article] Electrifying urban Africa: energy access, city-making and globalisation in Nigeria and Benin

Rateau, M., Choplin, A., 2021. Electrifying urban Africa: energy access, city-making and globalisation in Nigeria and Benin. International Development Planning Review. ahead of press

Abstract

Electricity access has become a crucial issue in global South cities. While demand is growing, conventional grids are failing or insufficient, especially in Africa. Urban dwellers therefore have to develop a wide range of (in)formal infrastructures to meet their daily electricity needs. Building on recent studies on urban electricity in the global South, this paper aims to contribute to the debates on hybrid forms of electricity provision by analysing the diffusion of solar panels and generators in two cities, Ibadan in Nigeria and Cotonou in Benin. Although neighbouring and relatively similar, these two cities illustrate distinct daily electrical lives. In Nigeria, an electricity-exporting country, people face daily power outages. In Benin, a country that depends on Nigeria for its supply, there is electricity but it is difficult to connect to the grid because of connection costs. Based on an empirical study, the article shows that Ibadan’s inhabitants use generators as a complement to a conventional grid that is almost universal but unreliable. In Cotonou, solar energy is an alternative until they can connect to the grid. Generators and solar panels have become the material markers of urban Africa, providing information on inequalities in access to electricity.

RGS-IBG panel: Hybrid electrical configurations: from heterogeneity to new conceptualization of energy transition in Southern countries?

We are glad to invite you on Wednesday 28 August 2019, to attend the RGS-IBG Conference panel in London (Skempton Building, Room 163, Imperial College) where the first results of our research will be presented and discussed with other researchers.

Here is the panel’s programme:

Session 1 (09:00 – 10:40 ) Chair : Francesca Pilo’

What happens when grid supply improves? Insights on the evolutions of hybrid electrical configurations in the city of Bhagalpur (Bihar, India)

Berenice Girard (LATTS, Université Paris Est Marne la Vallée, France)
This paper will focus on Bhagalpur, the third largest city in the State of Bihar (India). Though for many years, grid supply was very erratic in the region, it improved in the last few years and most residents connected to the grid in Bhagalpur now get around 18 to 22 hours of electricity a day. Based on extensive fieldwork and interviews with local entrepreneurs who invested in alternative energy systems, such as mini-grid operators and solar panel retailers, this paper will try to decipher how the hybridization of energy systems in Bhagalpur has evolved with the improvement of grid supply. 

Looking at different technologies (batteries, diesel mini-grids, solar) and different markets (households, shops and market areas, public sector), we are able to identify different dynamics. Amongst collective solutions such as diesel mini-grids, while some disappear, others either remain beyond the reach of the grid or are able to adapt by becoming complementary to it. As regards individual systems, while the market for batteries is thriving, the market for solar home systems is slowing down. New perspectives are however emerging for big solar retailers, as government agencies, small entrepreneurs and very well-off urban dwellers are investing in large solar rooftops for different reasons ranging from decreasing the pressure on the grid to being more eco-responsible to reducing one’s electricity bill. Amongst other factors, which favour hybridization, we can underline a general distrust in the conventional network, the resilience of past practices and the social embeddedness of certain systems. Hybrid configurations thus appear as dynamic arrangements, continuously shaped by evolving local, regional and national socio-technical and political contexts.

Lebanon – the emergence of a complex landscape of hybrid electric connexions

Alix Chaplain (Sciences Po CERI, CNRS, France)
Eric Verdeil (Sciences Po, France)
Lebanon, a middle income country, has a devastating record for the performance of the electric grid, as a result from civil war damage but also paralysis of reconstruction plans for more than 25 years. Outages currently amount to more than 8 hours daily in most part of the country. This long lasting situation has given rise to the advent and gradual solidification of a landscape of alternative electric solutions. Mainly based on diesel generators, it also makes room, more recently, for more diversified technologies, conjugating renewable energies such as PV panels, batteries, connected to the grid and to the generators, at various operational scales (individual house, building, plants but also pilot solar villages). The notion of ‘hybrid solutions’ is currently employed by many of these actors, though not always with the same meaning.

While several works have already examined generators in residential contexts (Gabillet 2010; Abi Ghanem 2017; Verdeil 2016), this emerging hybrid landscape has not been documented yet. This paper intends to present the first findings, based on a several months of fieldwork in Lebanon. After summarizing Lebanon’s electricity sector political economy, it explains the recent policy initiatives that have helped to shape the more diverse landscape that is emerging, by focusing on the institutional work done by the Lebanese Center for Energy Conservation. Then it provides a first mapping of the hybrid projects already identified. Then, focusing on two cases with a political economy lens, we will raise questions about the legal and regulatory pending issues. In contrast to many accounts of heterogeneous infrastructure as precarious and always shifting, our contribution highlights infrastructural changes which have a potential of shaping alternative paths for the electric sector on the long run.

Following the panels: A bottom up lens to see urban changes in the peripheries of Delhi

Marie-Hélène Zerah (IRD/Université Paris Diderot, CESSMA (UMR 245), France)
This presentation is based on preliminary field investigations into the deployment of renewable energies, in particular solar energy, in the Southern part of Haryana. This ongoing research focuses on two aspects. The first one traces the genealogy of public policies that promote renewable energy in the State. The second one is based on a “follow solar panels” method that has been used in order to capture the diversity of users across spaces that have hybridized their sources of energy.

The presentation’s objective is three-fold. The first one is to advance a typology of rationales for adopting off-grid or grid-connected solar (ranging from ensuring better access, harnessing existing subsidies, peer behavior, rebound effect). The second one is to give attention to the manner in which the market is constructed. More specifically, it underlines the important role of small locally-based entrepreneurs that are at the forefront of promoting solar energy in the rural – urban frontier. Finally, the third objective is to open up a reflection on the manner in which variety of practices on the ground by users and market players tell us about the nature of the co-evolution of urban space transformation and energy transition in peripheries of large cities.

Distributed renewables and hybrid electrical configurations in South Africa: a bottom-up approach to energy transition processes

Sylvy Jaglin (Université Paris-Est Marne-la-Vallée, France)
Since the electrical crisis in 2008 and its aftermath, and the wreckage of Eskom, a public monopoly company whose unbundling was announced by President Ramaphosa in February 2019, the South African energy landscape is changing. Three game changers are essential at the national level: the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Program (REI4P) and a ‘regulatory decompression’ parallel to a ‘PV revolution’ that favors small independent producers.

At the local level, municipalities are struggling to adapt in order to preserve the foundations of their redistributive business model and to regulate processes of change that lead, de facto, to a growing heterogeneity of local electrical systems. Field surveys in the Western Cape Province show both the internal diversity of the emerging socio-technical configurations of electricity supply and the variety of situations from one city to another. Examining the hypothesis of a long-term hybridization, the communication suggests that, in this context, it is necessary to consider the energy transition first as a re-arrangement issue of this diversity rather than as an independent end. This, however, raises key questions in terms of the reorganization of the electricity landscape, of a re-invention of municipal electrical services as a common good and, more generally, of the governance of energy transition processes that are both rooted in local territories and aligned with national objectives.

On citizenship, off-grid: state agents of the post-network city

Jon Phillips (University of Cambridge, UK)

This presentation will explore the relationship between infrastructural change and state-society relations through analysis of hybrid electrical configurations in South African cities. For many African governments, universal electrification now means a combination of grid and off-grid technologies. While urban geographers have noted the significance of ‘networked citizenship’ – including solidarity through use collective use and subscription to collective services – the significance of off-grid technologies for relationships between state and citizen have received less critical attention. Yet, how citizenship is mediated through hybrid electrical configurations has profound implications for the effectiveness and equity of post-network cities. Taking a socially and spatially differentiated perspective, the paper explores what the diffusion of off-grid solar photovoltaics might mean for the infrastructural citizenship of high- and low-income residents in South African cities. It places municipal policy-makers at the centre of analysis, engaging the state as the state engages with the post-network city. Comparative analysis of Johannesburg and Cape Town reveals how municipal actors evoke different notions of citizenship in planning for technological and spatial change – including rights, responsibilities, freedom, entitlement, dependency, participation, empowerment, struggle and sacrifice. It is the interplay of these ideas with the interests of municipal governments that shape how and why the cities are planning for the post-network city in different ways. I argue that analysing how infrastructure can be constitutive of citizenship means recognising that the state is neither absent and impotent nor all-powerful and predatory, but a conflicted and contested set of agents and relations. The paper concludes by reflecting on the explanatory power of different analytical frameworks as they grapple with the relationship between decentralisation and democratisation of urban energy infrastructures.

Session 2 (11:10 – 12:50) – Chair : Marie-Hélène Zérah

Socio-electric lives in Gulu Town, Uganda

Paul Munro (University of New South Wales, Australia)
In this presentation, I build on recent political ecology scholarship relating to heterogeneous infrastructure configurations to examine the dynamic geographies of urban electricity access in the Global South. As a case study, I focus on hybrid electrical configurations in Gulu Town, northern Uganda. I tell the socio-electric stories of five Gulu Town residents, showing how electricity supply is derived from an eclectic range of sources that include the grid, photovoltaic modules, dry-cell batteries and diesel generators, and how access to these sources are negotiated through local socioeconomic dynamics and broader political economy processes. These stories suggest that key to understanding heterogenous electricties is recognising the active role of urban inhabitants in negotiating infrastructure through different movements and connectivities, often within conditions of precarity. As such I argue that the urban poor are best understood as electrical bricoleurs: people who make creative and resourceful use of whatever energy materials and social connectivities that are at hand to realise their electrical needs. And through their stories, nuanced insights can be drawn in terms of into how urban infrastructure, like electricity flows, are entangled with social lives.

Electrifying the urban-rural intermediate spaces in Senegal: a diversity of electricity access providing offers at the heart of market formation?

Emmanuelle Guillou (LATTS, Université Paris Est Marne la Vallée, France)

In recent years, in sub-Saharan Africa, and more specifically in rural areas of Senegal, there has been a gradual electrification through a variety of electricity access offers ranging from connection to the conventional grid to the purchase of small individual solar devices, as well as autonomous collective electrification through diesel or hybrid mini-grids. These solutions are promoted by diverse economic actors through different socio-technical mechanisms. In Senegal, the government has set short and medium-term rural electrification targets, adopting various electrification strategies led by the Ministry of Oil and Energy and the Rural Electrification Agency, that influence the nature of the observed electric landscapes. Beside those top-down initiatives, many households opt for the purchase of photovoltaic solar panels of various sizes, prices and quality, sold by a diversity of private actors through various service relations with users.
The paper is based on field surveys conducted in Dakar and Kaolack region between 2018 and 2019, and analyzes how different electrification processes, involving a diversity of actors and socio-technical arrangements, shape the electricity landscape and participate in the
formation of a local electricity market in specific areas such as the intermediate urban-rural areas in Senegal. To what extent do users take over the diversity of electricity access modes? What is role of public action in the form of the electric landscape as it is shown?
Finally, to what extent does the electricity supply meet a heterogeneous and growing demand in these areas of diffuse urbanization?

Towards Urban Resilience? Coping with blackouts in Accra and Dar es Salaam

Joyce Angnayeli Eledi Kuusaana (TU Darmstadt, Germany)
The seamless and ubiquitous supply of infrastructure services such as electricity is usually seen as a critical backbone of modern urban societies. Yet, electricity supply in Accra and Dar es Salaam, like many other infrastructure services in cities in the global South, is commonly characterised as unreliable, unstable and unpredictable with power cuts being everyday occurrences. In both cities, major shortages in the generation of electricity have resulted in severe crises situations leading to a spatially uneven rationing of electricity supply. In the midst of such insecurities however, the criticality of such infrastructure services, and the shortfall thereof, is met with innovation, ingenious maneuvering and building of adaptive systems that allow cities to function. Based on debates on critical infrastructures and postcolonial urban studies, this paper seeks to understand the coping mechanisms of urban residents with electricity blackout situations in the cities of Accra and Dar es Salaam. It seeks to understand the criticality of electricity as a necessary component of the routines of different groups of urban dwellers and identifies the different energy constellations that function either complementary to or as alternatives to networked services. Pointing to the adaptive capacities that enable urban dwellers to prepare for power cuts but also to their unequal access to critical services, it argues for a more critical reassessment of debates on urban and infrastructural vulnerability and resilience.

Sociotechnical arrangements and delivery configurations for a multiscalar reading of a transition by hybridization?

Melanie Rateau (LATTS, Université Paris Est Marne la Vallée, France)

The presentation seeks to capture the impacts of the diversification of sociotechnical arrangements on inequalities of access to electricity in specific urban contexts. In Ibadan, Nigeria, access to electricity is characterized by failures of the conventional grid supply service. Households are equiping and organizing themselves to cope with uncertainty, while in Cotonou (Benin) the arrangements allow a « bricolé » connection to a network wich is too far away. From a fieldwork of more than eight months, in precarious, but also popular and favored neighborhoods of these two West African cities, the first objective is to look through what sociotechnical devices, households access to electricity, and what are the specific arrangements in each neighborhood and then, what are the characteristics of urban electrical configurations. The second objective is to propose a typology of socio-technical arrangements to better understand their impact on inequalities of access to electricity. And finally, it deals with questioning more generally the urban processes at work that seem to mark the electrical energy transition through diversification and increasing heterogeneity.

Off-grid Electricity in sub-Saharan Africa: from rural experiments to urban hybridisations

by Sylvy Jaglin

The following is the introduction of this paper. The full reference is: Jaglin, S., 2019. Off-grid Electricity in sub-Saharan Africa: from rural experiments to urban hybridisations. Hybridelec Background research paper1 January 2019 . Available at:
https://hal-upec-upem.archives-ouvertes.fr/halshs-02078148v1

Will the electricity revolution in Africa come from the deployment of decentralised solutions? With their capacity to decarbonise the energy mix and to use off-grid solutions now available everywhere on the continent, are local renewable resources capable of meeting demand from some 600 million Africans that the dominant industrial systems have failed to meet, and if so under what conditions? That is the challenge targeted by policies developed in response to the delayed awareness of energy gaps and their role in the (mis)-development of the continent,[1] which are now priorities for Agenda 2063 and for the African Development Bank (AfDB 2017).[2]

Continuer la lecture de « Off-grid Electricity in sub-Saharan Africa: from rural experiments to urban hybridisations »

Call for papers at the RGS-IBG (28th-30th August 2019): Hybrid electrical configurations: from heterogeneity to reconceptualizing energy transition in Southern countries?

Solar panels on a school roof, Beirut (2019)

Royal Geography Society / Institute of British Geographers Annual Conference 28th-30th August 2019 (information here)

Panel Convenors: Eric Verdeil (Prof. of Geography and Urban Studies, Sciences Po-CERI, CNRS, Paris eric.verdeil@sciencespo.fr); Sylvy Jaglin (Prof. of Geography, Université Paris Est-Marne la Vallée, LATTS sylvy.jaglin@enpc)

This panel is sponsored by the Energy Geographies Research Group.

Session format: This double panel intends to gather 8-10 scholars enrolled in the French Research Agency funded Hybridelec, as well as other researchers from other countries investigating similar issues.

Argument: While emerging and developing countries account for 95% of the expected global urban growth by 2050, many of them are experiencing major electrical supply problems. They result from an inadequate coverage by the grid (such as in low-income Sub-Saharan African countries), from a rationed supply, power cuts and load shedding (as in major cities with growing demand), and from disconnections related to sharp increases in prices. These failures have rising socio-economic and political costs and public authorities’ priority is to increase electricity generation capacity and secure distribution. But, in many countries, results are lagging behind targets in terms of grid connection and they remain insufficient to meet demand.

Therefore, alternative responses are emerging at different scales. They are collective (eg decentralized production and isolated mini-grids) and individual (eg diverse off-grid electrification and grid-tied solar solutions); they are driven by a multiplicity of actors (cooperatives, NGOs, large and small private operators, manufacturers and entrepreneurs, households); they rely on a variety of technologies and sources, the market of diesel generators growing at the same time as the use of renewable primary energy. To reflect the multiplicity of socio-technical arrangements and forms of organization that, all together, contribute to providing electrical services in urban areas, we analyze them in terms of “hybrid electrical configurations”.

Questions:

These hybrid configurations raise important questions. How are new socio-technical arrangements actually initiated and organized in practice to supply electricity? In which urban spaces are they to play a sustainable role and in what relation with the conventional network (complementarity, competition, substitution)? To what extent can this supply be sustained, expanded and scaled up to meet the diversity of users’ demands? What are their consequences for energy transition goals?

This panel has two main goals. First, to gather papers documenting the diversity of electric configurations that are emerging, not only by stressing their technological content but also their geographical and social embeddedness and effects, as well as the political struggles they face to sustain themselves. Secondly, to conceptualize this diversity and its role in the transformations of electrical systems and in energy transition trajectories in the South. Beyond the various local configurations, can we identify common trends? And if so, what is the value of the main frameworks used in socio-technical studies (such as splintering urbanism, post network cities, urban political ecology) to analyze the processes of emergence and the effects of these hybrid configurations, and what are their limits?

Interested scholars must send a 200-300 words abstract with title, author, affiliation and email address to Eric Verdeil (eric.verdeil_at_sciencespo.fr) and Sylvy Jaglin (sylvy.jaglin_at_enpc.fr) by the 10th of February at the latest.

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.

Observations on some hybrid energy systems in Delhi and its periphery

The Hybridelec research project started to explore the Indian reality, inparticular the city of Delhi and its southern suburb, during group visits which were conducted in the wake of the seminar co-organised by AFD, CPR and CERI on 30 October at CPR (see separate report). These field trips (Marie-Hélène Zérah,Bérénice Girard, Rémi de Bercegol, Gowda Shankare, Federico de Lorenzo, andEric Verdeil) have allowed us to identify five socio-technical setups and observe their typical ways of producing and accessing electricity.

Solar-roofed public buildings

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Photovoltaic plant on the roof of NPC, Delhi (Eric Verdeil, CC)

The first setup concerns numerous public agencies and enterprises which are having solar equipment installed on their roofs. For example, in the government district of south Delhi, we visited the National Productivity Council (NPC), a public enterprise acting as a consultant which helps public agencies or enterprises to improve their productivity, including with regard to their environmental or energy policies. When we arrived, there was a power cut which, according to our hosts, was highly unusual. Nevertheless, a dedicated generator powered the lift and emergency lighting.

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Other plants on the roofs of neighbouring buildings in the government district of Delhi (Eric Verdeil, CC)

Those in charge of NPC’s Environmental Management Department showed us a system of photovoltaic panels, with a total capacity of 30 kW, which had been installed on their roof in 2015. The system was connected to thehigh-voltage grid it supplied. Thus, the electricity produced was not directlyused in their building, however, NPC benefited from a reduction in itselectricity bill equivalent to the number of kW injected into the (high-voltage) grid. The electricity generated represented around 10% of thebuilding’s annual consumption (Rs. 30,000 per month) so this was a saving for the enterprise. Our interlocutors strongly emphasised the need for regular cleaning to remove the dust and maintain good production capacity. Several other buildings in the surrounding area were also equipped with solar panels of thesame type, albeit they were a lot less well maintained. Although this was not very clear, our interlocutors put forward several contributing factors behind this recent equipment:

  • a decision by the central government that tends to oblige public agencies to have this kind of systems installed;
  • the adoption of rules that favour net metering (which, however, did not apply in this case since the electricity produced was fed directly into the HV grid);
  • the project was completed with the help of a grant obtained from the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy as part of the National Solar Mission initiative;  
  • another incentive for this project was the obligation to have solar panels installed in order to be considered a “green building”;
  • the financial incentives were substantial overall: the project, which cost a total of Rs 2,157,000, received Rs 647,000 in subsidies;
  • finally, a swift drop in the cost of solar panels which has halved since 2015 was another essential factor in this investment.

The policy of Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) for installing solar panels

The DMRC represents a second very impressive example of solar-panel installation. Wevisited a workshop depot east of the Yamuna River, in the Karampura district. Our interlocutor showed us a 100 kW plant installed on the roof but, in reality, all the roofs of the complex, including round-shaped ones which arenot very suitable, as well as, more widely, metro stations and various empty fields were covered in panels. This was the result of a series of contracts since 2015, with an installed capacity reaching 24 MW in 2018, and a new installation phase was currently under way. DMRC’s objective is to produce a part of the electricity it needs for traction and lighting. We learnt that solar production represented 30% of the daytime consumption, but only 5% for the whole day, bearing in mind that there are two peak times: early in the morning when the sun has not yet risen and in the evening when it has already set. The cleaning operation is very important but very difficult. Indeed, because train and network maintenance has to take place at night, the only time cleaners can intervene and panels can be installed is between 1 and 4 o’clock in the morning. This obviously represents a logistical, technical and safety challenge for the night workers. Upkeep and maintenance are subcontracted to the company (Sun Edison) which has installed the panels under a 25-year maintenance contract.

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PV plant on the DMRC workshop roof

Aerial view of the Yamuna Bank depot, with its roofs covered in PV (Google)

Whilst the government incentives cited above applied here too, we could see that DMRC’s mobilisation went further and showed a veritable appropriation of the self-production objective in order to reduce operation costs, of which electricity represents a big proportion. Our interlocutor further stressed that the public too had a direct interest in this since a reduction in outgoings translated directly into a reduction in production costs and therefore in the fares thepublic was charged (or into a reduction in subsidies, one might think). He informed us that discussions had therefore been going on with the regulating authorities: DMRC would wish to break free of DISCOMs, who have local monopoly over the distribution of electricity, as it would like to be able to develop its own production capabilities outside Delhi. For example, it already has a supply agreement with a solar park in Madhya Pradesh (under the RESCO model) from which it buys electricity at a price lower than the DISCOM one (around Rs 2 difference), and this despite the charges imposed by the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (interstate charges) and the Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission (intrastate charges). One may think, subject to confirmation,that this evolution of things would not be favourable to DISCOMs’ business model since, thanks to these adjustments, big industrial clients such as DMRCplay an essential role in the implementation of a policy for the social integration of small consumers (for further details see Kohler, Zerah 2013). This most definitely explains why DMRC was refused exemption from the interstate andintrastate charges. The same goes for DMRC’s failed application – it intends to reapply – to obtain a “deemed licensee” status (already granted to the railways) which would allow it to develop a strategy forachieving complete autonomy.

Gurgaon: solar condos

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View of a part of the PV plant on the roof of the Wellington Estate condominium (Eric Verdeil, CC)

We witnessed another very impressive example of solar equipment in a condominium of around 500 apartments in Gurgaon, a new city south of Delhi developed in thepast 20 years to serve the needs of the tertiary industry. In the past twoyears, the estate had been investing in an initial stage of PV panels representing 200 kW. The plant covered around 50% of the roofs of the residence. Thanks to the success of the operation, a new phase is being planned.

There are several favourable factors worth mentioning: first of all, the personality of the estate’s current president seemed decisive. This businessman who had retired from the advertising sector and had nothing to occupy him (his children were abroad and his wife had her own activities) wanted to find savings for the estate and do something for the environment even though he did not define himself as an activist. As it happened, the implementation of the project had led to a reduction in costs, not least because his style of management seemed more widely geared toward the rationalisation of outgoings – lighting in the communal areas had already been switched over to LED bulbs, which had resulted in a big saving comparable to the amount saved by the solar production. Further, we can again cite the regulatory incentives (net metering, etc.). Above all else, this estate, like many of its counterparts in Gurgaon, had a long history of infrastructural autonomy. It had been equipped with water wells, which now seemed to play only a supporting role, but also with generators, which at first used to supply all the electricity within the complex. If today this production capability only played a back-up role in case of power cuts (very short ones amounting to around 10 hours a month), this was the result of the relatively recent improvements in electricity supply made by DISCOM. In this context, the solar investment was part of a continuum, even if it did not in and of itself represent a new back-up capability – the solar system could work in conjunction with the public grid or the generators, but not on its own.


Aerial view of the Wellington Estate solar plant (source: YouTube, Wellington Board, uploaded on 6 December 2017)

A truly remarkable characteristic was the estate’s desire to customise this technology and guarantee the quality of the work carried out. For this purpose, and despite the opposition of many residents, the estate’s president and a couple of other individuals involved had worked together with the selected consultant to improve the project. Indeed, they had chosen a small company (Green Roots) over a bigger one that provided only standard solutions. The president actually had an interesting view on the circumstances that would allow this solar sector to take off. According to him, there should be third-party consultants who could help residences to negotiate with the companies. Indeed, he told us that their discussions with Tata or Hero Solar had failed because they had refused any design changes or had wanted to impose their own choice of panel supplier. Finally, even though the supplier was supposed to be in charge of maintenance for five years, in reality it was the estate that would take care of the upkeep and maintenance of the plant.

In economic terms, they did not hesitate to invest for the long term by buying good-quality material and now they were able to reduce their electricity bill by 10%. They planned to use their monitoring system to optimise their plants. This was part of a wider optimisation strategy (installation of more energy-efficient ventilators, motor replacement, etc.) and in-house management, which, according to the president, explained why their outgoings were far lower than those of other Gurgaon residences. This, he maintained, would explain the end of the protests witnessed at the beginning of the project.

To what extent could this situation be replicated in other parts of the city? This question seemed all the more relevant since CPR’s work on the Smart City programme shows that the development of solar roofs is a clearly stated priority for Gurgaon. Nevertheless, according to our interlocutor, the city had not provided any support and its achievements in this area seemed more or less non-existent. Only 6 or 7 other building complexes seemed to have developed similar investment programmes, but less successfully and especially with a lower degree of customisation. And yet, the lowering of installation costs seems a powerful incentive, albeit expertise is also required, something that not all estates and their subcontractors have.

The rapid electrification of Delhi’s slums and working-class neighbourhoods

Rémide Bercegol and Gowda Shankare took us to visit two slum areas, which were also waste collection and treatment hubs. First we went to Hanuman Mandir, Rama Krishna Puram, a completely illegal neighbourhood located in a low area with a nala, an open-air sewer, running across. Many of the houses there were made of scrap materials. The collected waste, which was deposited in huge enclosures or just along the sewer, was sorted and then sent to wholesalers who would then negotiate with the recycling industries. We were greeted by the periwalah, the entrepreneur in charge of this trade, who was also the sarpanch or head of the neighbourhood. Collectors deposited their bales on a scale outside his house which measured the quantities collected every day. This dwelling, made of brick and cement with steel girders, was connected to the power grid, just as the rest of the neighbourhood was, as attested by the perfectly visible meters. Furthermore, our interlocutor received the bills and was in charge of their distribution to the residents. We found it hard to understand what the amounts quoted corresponded to, some of which seemed very high to us. Could they perhaps have been arrears?

Our host also pointed out the recently installed public lighting, which was in keeping with a national policy that had been presented to us at the CPR/AFD/CERI seminar. It involved the use of LED lights which allowed work to go on well after night had fallen.

Rémi de Bercegol highlighted that the AamAadmi (Common Man) Party’s recent access to power (the State Assembly) could explain the development of these infrastructure networks in an otherwise clearly informal neighbourhood: since this party’s coming to power in Delhi in 2012, the policy of repression against slums had lost in its intensity and certain residents who no longer feared being evicted had added an upper storey to their houses.

When asked about the consistency in supply, our interlocutor estimated that power cuts were rare and that there had been clear improvement in the past few years. However, they seemed to happen almost on a daily basis, albeit for very short periods of time and they didn’t cause any inconvenience nor did they require the acquisition of complementary devices.

The second neighbourhood was in Okhla, south Delhi. We visited several recycling workshops that dealt particularly in glass and metal. The foremen there told us that their machinery was supplied with electricity and that they were hardly disrupted by the rare power cuts. They did not have any generators.


A recently installed electric meter (Eric Verdeil, CC)

Unauthorised urbanisation on agricultural land, but the buildings were connected to the grid (Eric Verdeil, CC)

A generator outside a furniture workshop (Eric Verdeil, CC)

Behind these workshops, in an area where vegetables were still being grown, a new neighbourhood had been developing along elevated streets. Small developments,workshops, sometimes individual houses had appeared visibly fast, according to Rémi de B. and Gowda S. who had regularly been there in the past year. There too we were struck by the electrification under way, as attested by theelectricity cables and meters suspended from pylons or attached to houses. We also visited a furniture workshop which was equipped with modern machinery and supplied with electricity. A brand new generator stood grandly outside theentrance. Bought only five months previously, it was, our interlocutors told us, seldom used. Nevertheless, it was interesting that they felt the need to have aback-up plan. We also noticed an electric rickshaw whose battery was being recharged.


Urbanisation and electrification moving forward in tandem (EricVerdeil, CC)

A bit further way, on a road under construction (along a natural-gas pipeline), we had a long discussion with an estate agent about the neighbourhood’s urbanisation rationale. This urbanisation was in fact illegal as the neighbourhood was not part of the master plan. However, the agricultural land had been bought by developers who planned a (very dense) housing estate and many transactions had been conducted which, according to the agent, had been marked by various abuses. As far as access to the infrastructures was concerned, he also pointed out that electricity theft happened and was tolerated (indeed, therewere some suspicious-looking connections attached to a cable just behind us) and that, whilst the electricity distribution company had equipped the neighbourhood, the same could not be said for the supply of water which depended on a public operator. Hence residents relied on drilling into the water table.


“Bengali” camp. The satellite dish no longer workedfollowing the disconnection of an illegal electrical network by thedistribution company (Eric Verdeil, CC)

We continued our field trip by going through nearby areas inhabited by migrantswho called themselves “Bengali” but who were very likely illegalimmigrants from Bangladesh. They too were involved in waste collection and sorting for the purposes of recycling. These populations’ situation was extremely precarious and their camp dwellings were equally very basic: wood, sheet metal, fabric, plastic. We noticed a communal water point (a hand pumpwhich it was unclear whether it pumped from the water table or the nearby public network of the resettlement-colony of Madanpur). We noticed a satellite dish outside a dwelling but the residents told us it no longer worked as the electric connections they had installed had been withdrawn by the distribution company after a fire had been started by a short circuit in another camp.

These visits in slums and working-class neighbourhoods showed that electrification was advancing very fast, despite the areas’ land situation. Furthermore, theimprovement in supply meant that residents seemed to rely mainly on electricity– if they could afford it – without needing other sources of electricity production.

Dharuhera: hybrid setups in the development corridor south of Delhi


Former Rajput palace in Dharuhera (Eric Verdeil, CC)

This rapidly growing town (around 35,000 inhabitants currently, compared to 18,000 in 2011) is located in a development corridor south of Delhi: it is home to industrial areas and residences meant for middle classes and workers linked to these new economic activities. Its social and physical structure is marked by the juxtaposition of these new groups with the old village. Politically, a family of landowners, which used to be linked with the British (they organised the conscription), dominates the municipal bodies. As it happened, we were received in turn by the former mayor in his villa, then by his aunt, the current mayor, in her big modern house in the village centre, close to the neglected former palace.}

The council had recently been modernised. It occupies a big modern building where we met the executive secretary who was in fact a representative of the state. There too we learnt that the electricity supply had improved considerably and that power cuts were residual. Nevertheless, a generator outside the building had to regularly be switched on. Our municipal interlocutors mentioned the development of photovoltaic panels and the incentives from or even obligation by the stateto have them installed. The council was therefore looking at the possibility of installing them on its roof and even considered having a bigger-sized plant so as to draw additional income from it. However, we noticed that within the council there was little technical and legal grasp of these issues. We were told about an owner who apparently had had panels installed in the town and about several plants in the surrounding villages. Even if there seemed to be awell-established installer in the area (whom we were unable to meet), we saw few panels on top of the buildings. Further investigations would be required.

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Urban landscape in Dharuhera (E. Verdeil, CC)}

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Waste ground and, in the background, urbanisation in the form of apartment blocks in Dharuhera (E. Verdeil, CC)

Conclusion

A first converging observation concerns the impressive improvement in the access to electricity, in keeping with the increase in electricity production and the extension of the distribution networks. The once chronic power cuts seem today to be residual. Back-up practices are still in use by a proportion of the companies and of the middle- or upper-class households (generators, inverters) but do not concern the poorest.

The second major factor is the arrival of photovoltaic plants for production at an individual or a company and condominium level, in response to state incentives and regulatory changes, but also in order to benefit from the economic advantages provided by this increasingly approachable technology. We may well wonder whether a habit of managing shortages and disrupted supply represents afactor that favours investment in these technologies.

Report written by Eric Verdeil with additional material by Bérénice Girard, Rémi de Bercegol and Marie-Hélène Zérah.Translated from the French by Monica Biberson thanks to AFD funding to Sciences Po-CERI.

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