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.