Faith Wandera-Odongo, Kenya’s Deputy Director of Renewable Energy at Ministry of Energy and Petroleum, talks with SEI researcher Oliver Johnson.

Participants from Ghana, Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya and Ethiopia deliberated on the barriers that must be overcome to bring about an equitable transition to sustainable energy systems, particularly electricity and improved cookstoves, for households in sub-Saharan Africa. The aim was to generate a set of actionable recommendations, informed by local experience, for tackling these barriers.

Trade-offs and barriers
The workshop drew on the experience of key decision-makers and implementers across Africa to explore delivery models for scaling up low-carbon options for expanding energy access, as well as the political and economic trade-offs and barriers in implementing these models, and the main obstacles to unlocking the biomass energy economy and how these might be overcome.

Faith Wandera-Odongo, Kenya’s Deputy Director of Renewable Energy at Ministry of Energy and Petroleum was a key participant at the workshop. She said: “Concerted action to improve the functioning of the sub-Saharan energy sector is essential if the 21st is to become an African century. This entails strengthening policy and regulatory frameworks so that well-functioning energy markets emerge, enhancing regional co-operation, and, perhaps most importantly, achieving high standards of governance, both within and beyond the energy sector.”

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The workshop participants.

Discussions focused on several areas where there is a need for action, including:

  • Access to finance: African governments can play a larger role in structuring finance for the promotion and marketing of improved cookstoves by the private sector.
  • Regulation: governments in sub-Saharan Africa could encourage the uptake of clean energy technology and their components by removing taxes and duties to exempt technologies that are imported and reducing the number of licences required by manufacturers and distributors.
  • Capacity: the energy access gap in many African countries could be a major economic opportunity if handled in the right way. Crucially, there is a need to tap local innovation.
  • Knowledge on energy users: end-user behaviour and preferences should inform every household energy clean/improved cookstove intervention, but that too little is currently known about the consumers of household energy and how best to reach them. Disaggregated market research is urgently needed to segment markets.

A ‘valley of death’

Hilawe Lakew, an energy consultant with the Ethio Resource Group, said: “Low carbon energy pathways are definitely being considered by African governments, but even if the opportunities are clear, there is a ‘valley of death’ between policy design and implementation – that’s why it’s important to look at this issue from the ground up, as we are doing today, to fully understand what is required and where the trade-offs are in policy implementation”.

This event led off from a previous high-level workshop in Nairobi, convened in 2014 by SEI and IIASA, to discuss the trade-offs and synergies between carbon mitigation strategies and energy access goals at the national level. Insights from that workshop fed into the report of The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate – a major new international initiative to analyse and communicate the economic risks and opportunities linked to climate change. The New Climate Economy report, to which SEI was a key contributor, argued that often, both energy policy objectives and broader economic development objectives might be better served by low carbon options than fossil fuel ones.

Africa Progress Panel

SEI and research partners within the New Climate Economy consortium are now gathering evidence for this hypothesis in the African context, and drafted a synthesis paper to explore the barriers and opportunities for scaling up access to modern energy for cooking in sub Saharan Africa. The paper will feed into the 2015 Africa Progress Panel Report, the annual publication of the influential Africa Progress Panel, which is led by Kofi Annan, and delivered to African policy-makers.