NAIROBI, KENYA: Strathmore University’s Energy Research Centre (SERC) in partnership with the Energy and Resources Group (ERG) at the University of California, Berkeley hosted a one-day workshop on Decentralized Energy Solutions for East Africa and the Role of Research.
Strathmore University and the University of California, Berkeley are members of the Worldenergy for Universities (We4U) partnership program of Enel Foundation, whose objective is to bring together Academia and Industry to promote cutting-edge research to advance scientific discovery and technical development.
The workshop explored avenues of dialogue between important stakeholders in the decentralized renewable energy sector to reveal key issues, identify data and research gaps, and provide opportunities for research collaborations to address those problems. The workshop was well attended by representatives from key government institutions including Kenya Power and Lighting Company, the Ministry of Energy and Petroleum, the Energy Regulatory Commission, and the Rural Electrification Authority; as well as research, innovation, and advocacy groups including Kenya Climate Innovation Center, GOGLA, and Power for All, and private companies such as Mobisol, PowerGen, SunCulture, SteamaCo, and Women in Sustainable Energy and Entrepreneurship.
Decentralized renewable energy solutions have become an integral part of achieving universal energy access in East Africa. There are 600 million people not connected to electricity in Sub-Saharan Africa and 80% live in rural areas. As Mr. Geoffrey Ronoh (Director of SERC) explained, although there have been significant gains in electrification in Kenya in recent years through the grid densification program and a reduced connection fee, there is still work to do. “The next connections will be the most difficult. They are the farthest out and lowest consuming customers.” When compounded with issues of climate and environmental pollution, decentralized renewable energy technologies such as solar mini-grids and solar home systems (SHS) can be critical solutions, so there are important questions to answer about the future of the sector. A panel session led by Strathmore University Visiting Researcher Dr. Rebekah Shirley explored questions on the roles for public and private sector. How do centralized and decentralized solutions work together and what are their enabler? By bringing together stakeholders across the sector, the workshop helped academia engage with industry on answers.
A key focus of the workshop was the role of data. With the growth of SHS, mini-grids, and smart metering and controls, more information on the energy sector – such as, more accurate demand forecasts – becomes increasingly available, which is critical to integrated energy planning. But issues surrounding data sharing and management remain. Workshop sessions led by UC Berkeley’s Professors Daniel Kammen and Duncan Callaway highlighted key challenges of data sharing in the energy sector such as lack of comprehensive, accurate reporting on metrics including access rates; limited awareness of data captured and available; and sensitivities to data sharing due to competition and customer privacy.
Other research needs identified during the workshop included reliability of electricity services, consumer financing, productive uses of energy, and capacity building. Professor Izael Da Silva (DVC Research and Innovation at Strathmore University) mentioned that plans are in place to sponsor PhD students in various fields through the Open Africa Power initiative, an effort to build enough human resource capacity to power Africa. Collaborative research efforts like that emerging between Strathmore University and the University of California, Berkeley are important to support policy, industry needs, and also data-driven opportunities for integrated energy systems in the near future. Kammen noted that, “If there is sufficient interest, we would be excited to make this an annual event, moving between key centers of energy innovation in both different East African nations and Berkeley.”
About the Strathmore Energy Research Centre (SERC) – SERC offers professional training, project development and technical research in the renewable sector. Since 2012 SERC has trained more than a thousand technicians and implemented various innovative pilot projects to bring renewable energy to its rightful place in Africa. Learn more at serc.strathmore.edu
About the Energy and Resources Group (ERG) – ERG is an interdisciplinary graduate program at the University of California Berkeley centered on issues of energy, water, food, climate, and environmental justice. The mission of ERG is research and education for a sustainable environment and a just society. Learn more at erg.berkeley.edu