[Document de travail] Entreprises et hybridation des dispositifs sociotechniques locaux dans les villes du Western Cape (Afrique du Sud)

Auteur : Alain Dubresson

Document de travail produit dans le cadre du programme Hybridelec. En ligne : https://halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr/halshs-02306527

Mossel Bay: Equipements des bâtiments et services municipaux, réalisation en 2016 (Photo : Alain Dubresson)


La diversification des dispositifs sociotechniques (DST) d’entreprises par adjonction d’énergies ‘vertes’, particulièrement le solaire photovoltaïque (PV), est très inégale dans le Western Cape. Les changements observés semblent préfigurer une hétérogénéisation croissante des DST avec le développement, outre du PV, de solutions concurrentes ou complémentaires, voire avec l’émergence de symbioses industrielles locales façonnées autour de la biomasse. Après avoir rappelé le contexte dans lequel progresse la production d’électricité ‘verte’ dans les entreprises elles-mêmes, les nouvelles caractéristiques d’une offre de plus en plus sophistiquée sont exposées. Puis est soulignée l’extrême diversité des situations selon les types d’activité économique ainsi que l’hétérogénéité de la demande des entreprises en énergie électrique. Il est suggéré en conclusion de confronter les données empiriques à un croisement de deux corpus conceptuels, la ville néolibérale et la justice énergétique. Les exemples choisis sont extraits de monographies réalisées à partir d’enquêtes de terrain conduites au second semestre 2018 avec Sylvy Jaglin dans quatre villes de la province du Western Cape, Le Cap, George, Mossel Bay et Swellendam.

[New publication] Securitisation of urban electricity supply. A political ecology perspective on the cases of Jordan and Lebanon, by Eric Verdeil

Generator owned by the private company Electricity of Jbeil

Éric Verdeil. Securitisation of urban electricity supply A political ecology perspective on the cases of Jordan and Lebanon Eric Verdeil. Haim Yacobi; Mansour Nasasra. Routledge Handbook on Middle Eastern Cities, Routledge, pp.246-264, 2019. Online : halshs-02176158

Abstract: Questions about urban infrastructure, resilience, and violence are central to current urban general literature since infrastructures function as locations of conflict and negotiation over the public good, inclusion and exclusion, and mobility in the city. This chapter develops a theoretical framework to analyse the emergence of new concerns for urban energy security in the cities of Amman (Jordan) and Jbeil and Zahleh (Lebanon). Supplying these cities with electricity requires creating new circuits that are both material and sociopolitical. In Amman, one of the projects proposed for coping with the projected growth of energy demand was to build a nuclear plant in the “desert” close to Amman. This project, allegedly in the final studies stage at the time of completing the chapter, has experienced many episodes and delays. Analysis shows the pressure of urban energy demand and the resizing of metabolic circuits at the level of the metropolis of Amman, while the governance of these circuits remains state-driven despite popular protests. In Jbeil and Zahleh, in the face of regular and long-lasting power cuts, local capitalist actors have taken the lead to provide an alternative electricity supply that replaces both the national grid and informal generators that are in use elsewhere in the country. At first glance, both situations seem very different in scale and in the type of actors involved. But in both cases, these new circuits are heavily contested and redistribute agencies of power in ways that empower some actors but that, at the same time, erode solidarity at the city and the national levels.

[New publication] New Powers: How India’s Smart Cities are Governing and Transitioning to Low-carbon Energy

We are happy to announce the release of a new working paper, partly supported by Hybridelec, in association with the Center for Policy Studies in Dehli:

Bhardwaj, Ankit, Fererico De Lorenzo, et Marie-Hélène Zérah. 2019. New Powers: : How India’s Smart Cities are Governing and Transitioning to Low-carbon Energy. Dehli: Center for Policy Research.


Despite the potential of cities to foster a low-carbon energy transition, the governance of energy in India broadly remains within the purview of central and state governments. However, the Smart Cities Mission, a new urban scheme launched in 2015, gives Indian cities new powers to govern energy, a surprising departure from previous urban and energy policies. We argue that this shift is significant and we therefore raise three questions: 1) what kind of energy projects are planned and what does it reveal about the cities’ vision towards energy? 2) does the Smart Cities Mission foster a low-carbon energy transition and if so, how is this transition envisaged? 3) and finally, what are the rationale and the drivers behind this apparent shift?

To address these questions, we build on a database of projects and financing plans submitted by the first 60 cities selected in the Smart Cities Mission. We find that cities have earmarked an immense 13,161 INR crore (~1.4 billion GBP) for energy projects, with most funds dedicated to basic infrastructure, primarily focused on enhancing the grid and supply. Cities also proposed projects in solar energy, electric vehicles, waste to energy and LED lighting, indicating their appetite for low-carbon projects. While cities were given institutional space to prioritise certain technologies, their interventions were conditioned by centrally sources of financing which were limited to certain mandated technologies. A focus on technology, rather than planning, undermined the role of cities as strategic decision-makers. What emerges is a dual faced reading of the Smart Cities Mission, indicating the potential and pitfalls of contemporary decentralized energy governance in the Global South.

The full working paper can be accessed here.

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.

Les groupes électrogènes : une technologie d’appoint en voie d’hybridation et de mondialisation

Ce billet résume les principaux acquis d’un étude (en ligne sur HALSHS) préparée dans le cadre des réflexions menées par l’ANR Hybridelec autour de l’hybridation des systèmes électriques dans des villes de pays en développement et émergents. Ce travail s’intéresse spécifiquement aux groupes électrogènes (GE) qui, dans ces pays où les réseaux conventionnels peinent à universaliser l’accès aux services essentiels, sont à la base de différentes configurations alternatives de production et de distribution d’électricité. Fixes ou mobiles, ces appareils sont principalement utilisés pour produire une source autonome d’électricité en complément ou de façon totalement indépendante aux réseaux. Cette fonction initiale subalterne vis-à-vis des modèles dominants de production et de fourniture d’électricité explique sans doute pourquoi ces petits objets ont été, à l’inverse, des macro-systèmes techniques, peu étudiés par les sciences sociales, y compris dans le champ des STS (Science and Technical Studies).

Du point de vue des sources analysées, l’étude exploite un corpus de données diverses. Les aspects techniques ont été synthétisés à partir de sites internet spécialisés, de sites des fabricants, de magasines professionnels, d’articles de presse ou de rapports d’institutions internationales. Les informations relatives au marché des groupes électrogènes proviennent essentiellement de deux bases de données statistiques : la première est produite par la Banque Mondiale (http://www.enterprisesurveys.org/) et indique le taux de pénétration des générateurs dans le secteur industriel, commercial ou tertiaire des pays aux revenus bas ou intermédiaires ; la seconde est constituée des informations recueillies par la société de consulting Mordor Intelligence qui nous a livré un échantillon de données personnalisées présentant la valeur totale (en $) des importations et des exportations de GE diesel de différentes puissances (< 75 kVA, entre 75 et 375 kVA, > 375 kVA) entre 1997 et 2017. Les données sont désagrégées à l’échelle de 26 pays dont 8 pays industrialisés (Etats-Unis, Grande-Bretagne, Canada, Allemagne, Australie, France, Norvège, Israël), 13 pays « émergents » (Inde, Pakistan, Afrique du Sud, Turquie, Russie, Emirats Arabes Unies, Indonésie,  Mexique, Chine, Corée du Sud, Chili, Liban, Iran) et 5 pays pauvres (Nigéria, Bénin, Sénégal, Thaïlande, Bangladesh)

La première partie de l’étude présente les principales caractéristiques de fonctionnement de cette technologie méconnue. Quels éléments matériels et procédés techniques permettent aux groupes électrogènes de produire du courant électrique ? Quelles sont les propriétés différenciées de ce courant en fonction des combustibles utilisés et des contextes d’implantation des groupes électrogènes ? Ces notices techniques rappellent ainsi ce qui distingue courant continu/alternatif, monophasé/triphasé, détaillent les indicateurs de puissance (Voltampère/Watt) ainsi que les différents types de ressources, combustibles fossiles ou énergies renouvelables, capables d’alimenter les moteurs thermiques. En pointant par ailleurs une série de progrès technologiques (dont l’introduction des régulateurs et des onduleurs de tension) qui ont récemment contribué à améliorer le rapport taille/poids/puissance des groupes électrogènes, nous mettons en avant la capacité de ces petits objets à s’adapter aux transformations contemporaines de la demande d’électricité (hausse des consommations, diffusion des appareils électroniques) ainsi qu’à des politiques énergétiques orientées vers la valorisation de systèmes de production plus petits et plus sobres tout en s’ajustant aux objectifs prioritaires de sécurisation énergétique et d’individualisation de l’offre d’électricité aux besoins locaux. Les fabricants industriels insistent sur le caractère innovant et moderne d’une technologie qui, loin d’être obsolète, présente l’avantage de la flexibilité qui passe par le couplage avec différents types de flux et de systèmes techniques et celle de la modularité, c’est-à-dire la capacité des GE à se transformer en des systèmes plus grands/puissants (micro-grid) soit par effets d’addition/de couplage entre différentes unités, soit par hybridation avec d’autres systèmes énergétiques.

Source: Worldwide Independent Power Magazine

Une deuxième partie évoque l’émergence de petits systèmes électriques hybrides nés de l’association entre des groupes électrogènes, des sources d’énergies renouvelables et des unités de stockage. Cette forme d’hybridation présente l’avantage de minimiser les inconvénients respectifs des technologies combinées (principalement sous la forme de groupes électrogènes diesel avec du solaire photovoltaïque), c’est-à-dire la dépendance au carburant, à ses variations de prix et à la dégradation rapide du rendement de puissance dans le cas des groupes électrogènes et l’intermittence de la production dans le cas des ENR. Le couplage des deux est censé favoriser l’ajustement de l’offre d’électricité à la variation de la demande et ainsi réduire significativement la consommation de combustible (de 50 à 85% selon les contextes) et les émissions de CO2, tout en améliorant la qualité du service. Si la réduction drastique des coûts de production des batteries et des technologies renouvelables incite les industriels à investir dans ce secteur, le développement des mini-réseaux de distribution hybride est freiné par des difficultés d’ordre technique, économique et politique. La dynamique d’hybridation des groupes électrogènes est de fait encore marginale et semble cantonnée à des projets d’électrification rurale, notamment dans les régions fortement ensoleillées d’Afrique Sub-Saharienne et du Moyen-Orient sous la forme d’une combinaison GE diesel/panneaux photovoltaïques.

Source: Mordor Intelligence; GE Diesel toute puissance confondue

Une troisième et dernière partie dresse un état des lieux de l’organisation mondiale du marché des groupes électrogènes alimentés au diesel, ces derniers représentant en 2017  plus de 80% de la production et des ventes totales. Est ainsi proposée une lecture géographique et quantifiée des circuits d’importation et d’exportation des groupes électrogènes selon leurs usages finaux. Il ressort de cette analyse que les dynamiques structurant les modalités de diffusion et d’implantation des GE (fort développement du commerce mondial depuis le début du XXIème siècle, position dominante des pays industrialisés au sein des filières de production et de distribution, montée en puissance des pays émergents en tant que producteurs et consommateurs) semblent liées à un phénomène commun d’urbanisation planétaire. Il est intéressant nous semble-t-il de prendre au sérieux et d’interroger à l’avenir cette hypothèse de l’existence d’une relation entre urbanisation et développement du commerce des générateurs au moins pour trois raisons :

  1. parce qu’elle structure les représentations et les stratégies économiques/commerciales des fabricants industriels comme en témoigne ces affiches où l’espace urbain et la fabrique urbaine sont présentées comme des espaces privilégiés d’installation/d’utilisation de ces objets
Source: Worldwide Independent Power Magazine

2. parce qu’elle remet en cause la perception dominante d’une technologie majoritairement destinée aux milieux ruraux et dont le développement serait entièrement guidé par des choix individuels de ménages cherchant une alternative à l’absence de réseau électrique. D’autres réalités sociales, économiques, techniques en prise direct avec un phénomène plus collectif (et donc politique) d’urbanisation participeraient aussi de la construction de cette demande croissante de GE.

3. parce-qu’en tant que phénomène généralisé à l’ensemble de la planète, l’urbanisation fait des GE une technologie mondialisée, qui n’est pas l’apanage des pays pauvres/ou en voie de développement où ils sont directement visibles dans le paysage urbain pour pallier les coupures fréquentes de courant. Qu’ils servent à sécuriser une fourniture d’électricité ininterrompue dans des infrastructures aussi diverses que des aéroports, data-center, complexes immobiliers, commerciaux ou industriels ou lors d’événements sportifs internationaux, les groupes électrogènes viennent pallier la vulnérabilité intrinsèque de ces infrastructures qui garantissent l’insertion des villes dans les flux de la mondialisation et qui pour cela nécessite une alimentation continue. Derrière la digitalisation, la financiarisation et la dématérialisation des structures économiques des plus grandes métropoles du Nord (comme certaines du Sud au demeurant), on retrouve donc des GE qu’une affiche publicitaire présente comme « la meilleure option pour garantir un courant électrique de soutien et d’urgence en termes de coût, de flexibilité et de réactivité ».

Source: Worldwide Independent Power Magazine

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:

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”.


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.

Round Table Emerging Forms of Hybrid Energy Systems in Cities of the Global South at CPR, Dehli

CPR, in partnership with AFD and CERI-Sciences Po, has organised this round table on Emerging forms of hybrid energy systems in cities of the global South
Ankit Bhardwaj, Centre for Policy Research
Marie-Hélène Zérah, IRD and Centre for Policy Research

Eric Verdeil, Centre for International Studies, Sciences Po Paris
Rémi de Bercegol, PRODIG, CNRS, Paris
Santosh Kumar Thakur,General Manager, Street Lighting division, EESL (Energy Efficiency Services Limite)
Gaurang Sethi, Head Business Development, Azure PowerTuesday, 30 October 2018, 9:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Conference Hall, Centre for Policy Research
Continuer la lecture de « Round Table Emerging Forms of Hybrid Energy Systems in Cities of the Global South at CPR, Dehli »

[Published] Infrastructure crises in Beirut and the struggle to (not) reform the Lebanese State

In a recent interview for Jadaliyya, I presented this article published in the Arab Studies Journal (#1, 2018).

Jadaliyya (J): What made you write this article?

Eric Verdeil (EV): Until recently, the prolific urban research on Beirut and Lebanese cities ignored, almost entirely, issues related to networked infrastructure, a very strange fact given the magnitude of infrastructure deficiencies in the country. Only recently have scholars (like Ziad Abu-Rish or Joanne R. Nuchofor example) begun to address infrastructure related issues, particularly as they relate to electricity. Water management also remains mostly out of the scope of urban scholarship in Lebanon, which has instead concentrated on reconstruction, housing, and urban conflict. Additionally, questions regarding waste management and sanitation have also remained largely absent from the research. This article addresses these three ongoing infrastructure crises in the Greater Beirut.

The article was initially a response to the call for papers launched by Hannes Baumann and Jamil Mouawad, under the title “Wayn al-Dawla? In search of the Lebanese state.” Baumann and Mouawad’s idea was to challenge the common (and somewhat lazy) notion of a weak state in Lebanon. They highlighted the inputs of mid-range theories that show how state institutions are part of a wider landscape of powers that interact with the state, often displaying “hybrid sovereignties.” Baumann and Mouawad personally chose to analyze the Central Bank and the Lebanese Army in the light of Marxist and Foucaldian approaches, thus showing how the state is at times able to reconfigure local capitalism, or to produce a “state effect,” for instance, in Akkar. They suggested that I write about electricity and the state in Lebanon, specifically about the fact that electricity has become the paradoxical symbol of the existence/absence of the state: “ejit al dawleh,” say the people when the electricity comes back after a power cut. Due to lengthy revisions on both sides, the article eventually appeared one year after the theme issue was released.

For me, it was also an opportunity to translate and adapt the results of a research project I had undertaken about the governance of urban infrastructure in Beirut in the framework of a project led by sociologist Dominique Lorrain on Mediterranean Metropolises. The general objective of this research was to take seriously the materiality of the city, including infrastructure, and to test the hypothesis that even when political institutions fail to govern the city, as seen when violent conflicts erupt, infrastructure provides some minimal level of consensus and agreement that allows for urban life to go on. At first glance, this hypothesis was far from obvious in the case of Beirut, but it provided an interesting chance to understand where the Lebanese state is when infrastructure fails.

Read the end of the interview on Jadaliyya.

The article will be in Open Access from the HAL-SHS repository starting November 2018.

Electricity Subsidies in Lebanon: Benefiting some Regions More than Others – analysis featured on the LCPS website

Eric Verdeil’s analysis of electricity subsidies in Lebanon is featured on the website of the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies.

While the recent political showdown over where to connect the Esra Gul barge to Lebanon’s power grid is indicative of the country’s unequal electricity supply, it also unearthed something more fundamental, namely, how electricity subsidies exacerbate geographical and social inequalities. Indeed, one major problem facing Electricité Du Liban (EDL) concerns the fact that production costs exceed revenues from consumers. For many years, the difference has been covered/subsidized by the state but these subsidies impact citizens differently depending on where they reside.

More precisely, because the periphery have access to a smaller supply of electricity per day, they incur greater generator use costs than those living in the central agglomeration, particularly   municipal Beirut. Consequently, my recent study demonstrates that effective subsidies disproportionately benefit wealthier households and in particular those who live in Beirut, as the latter are supplied with more power on a daily basis compared to other regions.[1] Therefore, electricity subsidies exacerbate both geographical and social inequalities.

While the production cost of electricity—indexed to the international hydrocarbon market—has significantly increased since 1994, prices have not been reevaluated in that period. According to the National Electricity Strategy Plan of 2010, the price represented on average only 55% of the production cost per kilowatt hour. While the price structure should reflect a principle of fairness and employ progressive rates designed to ease the burden for small consumers—among whom are the country’s poorest people—a 2009 World Bank study reported the opposite. In fact, fixed costs added onto an EDL bill resulted in small consumers (who use up to 300 kilowatt hours) paying disproportionately more of their income toward energy bills than larger users. Practically, the more they consume, the more users are subsidized by the state. This is not an open and deliberate subsidy, but rather a largely unseen mechanism at work.

In fact, the study highlights geographic variances that result from the length of time that power is supplied. This adds an essential component to the distortion caused by this effective subsidy. Since 2006­-2007, Beirut has received on average nineteen to twenty-one hours of electricity per day, while other regions have received only twelve to fifteen hours if not less (depending on the time of year and in which year data was gathered). The capital’s residents use more public electricity by default and consequently benefit more from subsidies.


Read the end of the article on the LCPS website. The translation of this article has been made possible thanks to the financial support of AFD.

A French longer version, including the detailed data, is to be read on Rumor, Eric Verdeil’s own blog.

Marie-Hélène Zérah soutient son HDR : Penser la diversité urbaine : une analyse par les services essentiels en Inde

Marie-Hélène Zérah, participante au projet Hybridelec, soutient son HDR intitulée Penser la diversité urbaine : une analyse par les services essentiels en Inde le 9 février à 14 h à l’Université Paris-Est / Marne la Vallée.

Bâtiment Bienvenüe (IFFSTAR) 14-20 Boulevard Newton

Cité Descartes 77420 Champs-sur-Marne

Salle mlv-11b021/mlv-12b023

Le jury se compose de:

Mme Sylvie Fol, Professeur des Universités (Aménagement de l’espace, Urbanisme), Université Paris I, Panthéon Sorbonne (rapporteure)

Patrick Heller, Professor, Department of Sociology and Watson Institute, Brown University

Mme Sylvy Jaglin, Professeur des Universités (Aménagement de l’espace, Urbanisme), Université Paris-Est Marne-la-Vallée (garante)

Mme Loraine Kennedy, Directrice de Recherche CNRS, CEIAS (Centre d’Études de l’Inde et de l’Asie du Sud)

Mme Jennifer Robinson, Professor, Department of Geography, University College London (rapporteure)

Eric Verdeil, Professeur des Universités (Géographie et Etudes Urbaines), Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris (rapporteur)


Cet essai contribue à une réflexion générale sur la diversité des mondes urbains à partir d’une analyse centrée sur la variété des arrangements dans la production et la gestion des services essentiels (eau, assainissement et électricité) en Inde. Il a trois ambitions principales.
La première est de saisir, au prisme des services urbains, les multiples facettes du processus d’urbanisation, depuis le début des années 1990, du pays abritant la deuxième plus grande population urbaine au monde. Dans la mouvance du renouveau des études urbaines porté par les chercheurs travaillant sur les « Suds », ce texte suit une démarche comparative. Il est
mené sur la base d’une analyse résolument empirique et ancrée dans la profondeur des territoires. Cette exploration au sein de la diversité des espaces urbains, dans un gradient allant de la grande métropole aux gros bourgs ruraux urbanisés, démontre que le biais métropolitain donne à voir une vision amputée et erronée de l’urbanisation indienne. La comparaison à l’échelle nationale permet une lecture plus riche et complexe des transformations sociales, des mutations démographiques et économiques, des formes de l’urbanisation, de l’impact des réformes néolibérales et des formes d’insertion des villes, et donc de l’Inde, dans la mondialisation.
La seconde ambition est de mettre au jour les soubassements et les caractéristiques de cette diversité, dans ses lieux, ses formes et ses dynamiques. Cet essai défend l’idée que les mutations observées sont imputables à des articulations variées, localisées et contingentes
entre différents régimes explicatifs ce que l’analyse par les services essentiels aide à décrypter.
Cette démonstration est faite en combinant des résultats sur (i) l’hybridation des discours et des modalités de l’action publique sous l’influence des modèles internationaux ; (ii) les ressorts et les régimes de justification de l’émergence et de la variété des formes de
capitalismes urbains ; et, (iii) sur les pratiques ordinaires et les mobilisations collectives des usagers pour accéder et défendre leur droit aux services urbains, en s’intéressant à ce que l’expression de ces pratiques révèle des fractures sociales qui traversent la société urbaine.
Cette démarche multidimensionnelle, qui emprunte à plusieurs corpus, permet de dépasser des explications univoques et normatives sur les liens entre transition urbaine et néolibéralisme en insistant sur la variété des trajectoires.
La troisième ambition vise à engager un dialogue constructif avec certains travaux menés en géographie urbaine critique, à en nuancer les résultats et à apporter un nouvel éclairage. D’une part, ce texte discute les apports de la « Southern theory » dont l’objectif est de décentrer les études urbaines menées au Nord en prônant une nouvelle forme d’urbanisme comparatif. Il démontre qu’en privilégiant les comparaisons entre grandes villes (comparaisons Nord/Sud et plus récemment Sud/Sud), l’urbanisme comparatif n’embrasse pas l’ensemble des mutations en cours et ne prend pas la mesure des transformations et des innovations localisées hors des métropoles. D’autre part, il questionne les propositions récentes autour d’une planétarisation de l’urbanisation qui rendrait caduques les frontières
entre le rural et l’urbain. Cet essai rejoint certaines conclusions relatives à l’effacement des frontières et à l’expansion de l’urbanisation. Néanmoins, il souligne la contingence et l’autonomie de logiques locales qui font la ville, à contre-courant d’une analyse mettant en avant la dépendance des espaces en voie d’urbanisation au phénomène d’agglomération. Face à ces deux paradigmes dominants, le cas de l’Inde offre une hétérogénéité de situations démontrant que, dans les limites actuelles des recherches qu’elles suscitent, les voies tracées par ces courants de pensée sont des sources d’inspiration encore insuffisantes pour penser le fait urbain dans sa diversité.

Emerging countries, cities and energy. Questioning transitions

This recently published chapter is one of the cornerstones on which the project Hybridelect is based:  Sylvy Jaglin, Éric Verdeil. 2017, Emerging countries, cities and energy. Questioning transitions. in Stefan Bouzarovski; Martin J Pasqualetti; Vanesa Castán Broto (eds.). The Routledge Research Companion to Energy Geographies, Routledge, pp.106-120.

Here is the introduction. Continuer la lecture de « Emerging countries, cities and energy. Questioning transitions »