Newsletter No 3 Oktober 2011

Transition to Renewable Energy Sources in Africa

Pieter van Beukering


The RENEW program is gaining momentum. Up to now, almost 150 MSc students followed in IVM’s Environment and Resource Management course the specialization on Sustainable Energy Analysis in which ample attention is paid to promoting renewable energy in Africa. Moreover, more than 15 case studies have been conducted in 6 developing countries. Several events have been organized in the context of energy and development. The next RENEW event will take place on 9 November at the VU University under the heading “New Realities in Energy and Development”.
One of the PhD projects in RENEW investigates energy transition processes in urban and rural areas in developing countries. The main objective of the study is to identify key factors explaining such energy transition processes, including so-called energy switching and stacking behavior, at individual household level based on the available empirical evidence base. Understanding household fuel choice and fuel switching is of vital importance in search for policies to support this transition process. Over 2 billion people rely on traditional biomass - wood, agricultural residues and dung - for their daily energy needs. In many countries, these resources account for over 90% of household energy consumption. The use of biomass fuels in inefficient traditional ways can have severe implications for human health, the environment and economic development. Its collection is not only a time consuming task constraining women to engage in income generating activities, it also causes serious health problems due to the heavy loads carried and indoor air pollution. To overcome the negative effects of traditional energy on human health and the environment and to enhance the livelihood conditions of the poor, a transition towards cleaner and more efficient forms of energy is needed. Although the empirical evidence for the existence of the energy ladder is very limited, modern fuels are an important enabler of social and economic development.
The conceptual framework developed in the study for the analysis of household behavior is based upon 3 types of factors: the characteristics of (1) the external household decision environment, (2) the internal household decision context, and (3) the household opportunity set. The framework provides a comprehensive tool to assess household behavior in an energy transition context. Several factors from this framework have been identified as influencing fuel switching in the selected empirical studies. Among those are human capital, the household labour economy, cultural background and tradition, and access to fuels. The decision to move from universal reliance on biomass fuels to partial or full market dependence takes place in a household decision environment. Such an environment is complex and multidimensional, stressing the need to look beyond income as the prime driving force behind fuel switching.
For more information about this study and a number of similar studies on renewable energy in Sub-Sahara Africa, visit the RENEW website or contact Pieter van Beukering.