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Renewables and Energy for Rural Development in Sub-Saharan Africa
By Maxwell Mapako, Abel Mbewe
Zed Books LtdCopyright © 2004 African Energy Policy Research Network (AFREPREN)
All rights reserved.
Maxwell Mapako and Abel Mbewe
Background and rationale
Energy supply is a key factor in economic and social development, but little attention has been given to the needs of rural households, farmers and small businesses. Rural households in sub-Saharan Africa still derive most of their energy from biomass sources. Lack of modern energy services in rural areas constrains efforts to alleviate poverty and improve living standards.
The five country case studies presented in this volume are all part of a common research theme – Renewables and Energy for Rural Development – and constitute the second part of a two-part study. The first, short-term study examined public sector rural energy initiatives that were welfare focused, while this medium-term study examines the impact of modern energy on income-generating activities.
The countries represented are Botswana, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The amount of experience with renewables in the countries represented in the theme group varies widely. This is why the country studies focus on different aspects of the theme topic. The Ethiopian and Eritrean studies dwell on seeking to introduce wider utilization of renewables in view of their more limited dissemination in those countries. Zimbabwe has had over 20 years' experience with the dissemination of renewable energy technologies (RETs), and the promise that was seen in renewables has not been realized. The focus of the Zimbabwe study, therefore, is on the lessons learnt and a possible way forward. The Zambia and Botswana country studies fall between these two extremes.
The major objective of these studies was to identify the options for the provision of modern energy services to low-income rural areas, with special emphasis on the productive uses of energy. The study focuses on whether the decentralized approach to energy delivery is better than centralized delivery; on the role of income-generating activities in attracting modern energy to rural areas; and on the barriers to and opportunities for the promotion of renewable energy technologies in rural areas.
The development process in general, and income-generating activities in rural areas in particular, pivot on access to reliable and sustainable modern energy services. However, the interrelationship of modern energy and such factors as (1) the capacity of small and medium enterprises to generate income and employment, (2) gender impacts, and (3) the role of the private sector in energy production and distribution is poorly understood in the region. The study intends to address these and other related issues.
Methodology and approach
Three hypotheses formulated to guide the study were tested after the indicators, data requirements and data sources had been identified. Data gaps were filled through field surveys and interviews with government officials, as well as association leaders and representatives of beneficiaries. Reviews of national, regional and international literature supported the case studies at the heart of the research work.
These case studies were approached from both the rural enterprise side (bottom-up) and the modern energy supply side, which includes the private sector (top-down). The top-down approach examined the current rural energy supply systems with special reference to the following:
centralized energy delivery systems;
decentralized energy delivery systems;
differentiated performance levels.
This broad review of the rural energy supply systems was used to highlight the factors linked to the successes and/or failures of past and ongoing rural energy initiatives. In addition, energy options to overcome observed barriers were identified.
The alternative, bottom-up approach examined rural enterprises from the following points of view:
energy forms used, energy intensities and their relative importance;
energy intensities of the various income-generating activities in rural areas;
the role of enterprises in attracting modern energy;
structure and ownership (the gender issue).
This was achieved mainly through primary data analysis, involving surveys and interviews in addition to secondary data analysis. Depending on the hypotheses being tackled, either or both of the approaches were used.
In addition to the approaches mentioned above, general principles relating to income and modern energy services were also employed as part of the analytical frameworks. One of these principles is the energy ladder concept, which postulates that rural households and rural-based productive and service sector enterprises progress up the energy ladder as income increases. This implies that energy users shift from traditional, inefficient, inconvenient and low-cost biomass sources to more advanced fuels such as modern biofuels, kerosene, diesel and electricity as their income improves. In addition to income, other factors influence progress up the rungs of the ladder: the state of local-area energy infrastructure; awareness of the benefits of bulk purchase of energy supplies; the availability of government subsidies or donor funding; and access to credit facilities to overcome the high up-front cost of modern energy technologies and appliances. Many of these factors tend to work against the low-income rural groups, placing them at a serious disadvantage.
Generally speaking, past initiatives in the dissemination of renewable energy technologies focused on welfare applications, virtually ignoring the productive functions of rural energy such as its use in medium- and large-scale agro-industries. Consequently, opportunities for enterprise development and job generation based on rural energy initiatives have been very limited.
This failure to focus on the income generation potential of promising renewable energy technologies in rural areas has led to increased attention to low-power renewable energy options such as solar electricity. Consequently, rural and renewable energy options for thermal and motive power applications in rural areas are poorly appreciated. The potential for small-scale productive applications of wind pumps for irrigation, small hydro for grain processing, and biofuel-fired crop dryers and industrial boilers has not been exploited and is consequently not well understood. This is unfortunate, since effective dissemination of such technologies could lead to the rapid establishment of important rural-based small- and medium-scale industries that could provide the nuclei for robust rural growth centres.
There is some anecdotal evidence that once a critical mass of sustainable rural/renewable energy technologies are in place, a self-driven rural energy industry ensues. Current research literature does not provide reliable quantitative targets that would ensure sustainable and self-driven manufacture or assembly of energy end-use products. Using the solar PV and wind pumps example, it appears that the number of manufacturers/assemblers is a more important indicator of attainment of the critical mass needed for self-sustainable development. The question of the level of subsidy needed to attain the critical mass is still unclear. Once again, inter-country and intra-country comparisons of the levels of dissemination might provide useful insights.
The medium-term hypotheses
The short-term study which preceded this medium-term study was confined to rural energy initiatives managed by government and utility agencies, with a focus on the policy and institutional/organizational aspects of the modern energy delivery system. To complement this study, the medium-term research deals with rural energy initiatives implemented by both public sector and private sector agencies. The aim is to identify those factors that lead to the success/failure of modern energy supply initiatives to rural areas. To that end, the following hypotheses were formulated and evaluated:
1 Decentralized, private sector energy production and distribution have a better rate of success than centralized, public sector initiatives in delivering modern energy for rural households and income-generating activities.
2 Income-generating activities have greater impact than domestic use in promoting the delivery of modern energy to rural areas.
3 Of all existing and potential components for the promotion of RETs geared to income-generating activities in rural areas, some are far more critical than others and therefore need priority attention and action.
Methodology, data and indicators, and sources of data
We shall now outline the methodology used for tackling each of the hypotheses, the data and indicators required, and the sources of the data. Some of the information was collected using questionnaires, interviews and case studies. The technologies and technical options for the generation and distribution of modern energy vary between the country studies. For example, in all case studies there are diesel-powered generation sets (gensets) and other machinery for agricultural applications, grid electricity, solar photovoltaic installations and various designs of cook stoves and ovens.
In the Eritrea study, one micro-hydro plant for electricity generation, wind pumps, and two biogas digesters for cooking and lighting are cited. None of these are still in operation. Operational renewable energy technologies among those cited are solar thermal and photovoltaic equipment. The Botswana study cites grid electrification by the public and private sectors as well as the distribution of other modern fuels such as paraffin, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), coal, petroleum products and photovoltaic systems. The Zimbabwe study looks at solar photovoltaic systems, biogas, mini- and micro-hydro, woodstoves, gasifiers, wind pumps and gensets. Generally the numbers of renewable energy technologies in the Zimbabwean study are considerably higher than in most of the other country studies because of sustained dissemination in the decade following independence.
We state each hypothesis in turn below, together with associated research issues, before discussing the relevant data and indicators.
(1) Decentralized, private sector energy production and distribution have a better rate of success than centralized, public sector initiatives in delivering modern energy for rural households and income-generating activities.
Associated research issue: Analysis of existing decentralized private sector energy production and distribution activities in rural areas.
Most government and utility rural energy initiatives are centralized in nature, while those of the private sector are largely decentralized in nature. A comparison of both kinds in terms of major attributes of the initiatives is presented below.
The main methodology adapted to test this hypothesis was a comparative one in which the success/failure rate of decentralized private sector and centralized government and/or utility-led rural energy initiatives were evaluated. Whether the decentralized options have greater participation of women than the centralized options has also been analyzed where data were available.
Increased sales of rural energy technologies from private suppliers;
Increased number of customers and energy sales in the centralized energy system;
Effectiveness of centralized/decentralized energy delivery mechanism;
Rate of switch to modern energy fuels.
Performance of private sector energy production and distribution enterprises;
Time series data on sales of energy technologies;
Time series data of utility sales and growth of customers.
Sources of Data
Government documents, including reports, policy statements, project files, and annual reports on the production and distribution of modern energy to rural areas;
National development plans;
Interviews with utility company managers;
Private genset distribution companies and their suppliers;
Department of Energy reports/project documents;
Private electrical contractors;
Utility reports and interviews;
Project evaluation reports;
Rural energy needs survey reports.
(2) Income-generating activities have greater impact than domestic use in promoting the delivery of modern energy to rural areas.
Associated research issue: Comparative analyses of demand for modern energy in rural areas (actually existing and future potential) created by income generation activities and domestic use.
It may be inferred that the likelihood of using modern energy technologies for income-generating activities in rural areas could be higher than for domestic level activities in rural areas. One can, therefore, assume that rural energy initiatives aimed at income generating are likely to be more effective in the delivery of modern energy services to rural areas. This hypothesis is effectively testing the above assumption.
In the region, most rural household energy and the energy requirement of rural commercial enterprises is biomass-based, the balance being covered by oil products and electricity. This suggests that income-generating activities attract modern energy services better. Testing the above hypothesis required knowledge of the existing income-generating activities in the case study areas as an indicator of demand threshold, and data on energy intensity by type for rural households and enterprises. Existing and potential demand for modern energy carriers by rural household and enterprises was estimated using the proxy variables of household income and enterprise turnover. Yearly expenditure on modern energy and its share in the respective total expenses for households and enterprises was used to indicate the degree of penetration of modern energy services to these users.
Typical rural household income and expenditure on traditional or modern energy;
Number of income-generating enterprises in the case study areas;
Rural enterprise turnover and expenditure on traditional or modern energy;
Degree of penetration of modern energy services to rural households and enterprises, functional and in use.
Energy demand (existing and potential) by income-generating activities and households;
Levels of modern energy consumption by income-generating activities and households;
Energy expenditure of households and enterprises by type of fuel;
Number and type of rural enterprises.
Sources of Data
Department of Energy annual and project reports;
Department of Industry report;
Utility billing systems and private genset operators and municipalities;
Investment promotion office;
Central Statistics Office bulletins and reports;
Business Licensing Office reports;
Chamber of Commerce;
Socio-economic study reports;
Pilot and evaluation project reports.
(3) Of all existing and potential components for the promotion of RETs geared to income-generating activities in rural areas, some are far more critical than others and therefore need priority attention and action.
Associated research issue: Analysis of components for promoting the production and deployment of RETs by private entrepreneurs in rural areas – for example, market research, financing mechanisms, provision of infrastructure for production, repair and maintenance, training (entrepreneurial, technical, managerial) and technical back-up.
There are generally very few RET systems introduced for income generation purposes in the country studies. The focus of the study is therefore to varying extents on the general application of RETs for all end uses.
The research issue which gave rise to this hypothesis is the need for analysis of the importance of the project components for the production and deployment of RETs by private entrepreneurs in rural areas. These include market research and the other components listed above, as well as quality control, gender considerations, and policy support. Thus, identification of the most important barriers/promoters in each country's context is an initial step in testing this hypothesis. Case studies of successful and less successful rural energy projects, and the reasons for their failure or success, were analyzed to identify the most important factors that affect the dissemination of RETs for priority attention by policy makers.
Excerpted from Renewables and Energy for Rural Development in Sub-Saharan Africa by Maxwell Mapako, Abel Mbewe. Copyright © 2004 African Energy Policy Research Network (AFREPREN). Excerpted by permission of Zed Books Ltd.
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