In 2010, Kenya established a devolved government system that, among other things, allocates responsibility for energy planning to the county level. Devolution offers an opportunity for the government to better understand and respond to the needs of the people – but only through effective participation of community members.

This study examined household energy consumption patterns in Migori County, in southwestern Kenya, and explored avenues for citizen participation in energy planning processes. Through a literature review, it identified six key activities that can help overcome barriers to and enable participation: stakeholder engagement and awareness creation; needs assessment; resource mapping; visioning and action planning; capacity-building, and implementation, monitoring and evaluation.

A survey of 500 households (85% rural and 15% urban) showed that four energy sources predominate: charcoal, firewood, dry cell batteries and kerosene. However, there were stark differences between rural and urban households, with greater diversity of energy sources in urban households, also including electricity (65%), candles (56%) and LPG (39%), none of which are available to most rural households.

Focus group discussions highlighted challenges faced by communities, such as expensive and unreliable electricity; hazards involved in collecting firewood; health impacts for biomass users, and lack of participation in energy planning and decision-making processes. The survey found that 79% of households would like to be involved in such processes, through direct contact such as surveys, or through their ward administrators or existing community groups. The study ends with several recommendations for the government to improve citizen participation in energy planning.