RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2017


126 Urban Energy in the Global South (2)
Affiliation Energy Geographies Research Group
Urban Geography Research Group
Convenor(s) Jon Phillips (King's College London, UK)
Federico Caprotti (King's College London, UK)
Chair(s) Federico Caprotti (King's College London, UK)
Timetable Wednesday 30 August 2017, Session 4 (16:50 - 18:30)
Session abstract This session will explore the interface between urban studies and energy geographies through discussion on urban energy developments in the Global South. Many local authorities in the South are making concerted efforts to reconfigure socio-technical systems of energy at the municipal scale with important implications for power, justice and equality in the post-colonial city. In this context, the expansion and de-carbonisation of energy systems implies broad societal change that will be shaped by historical relations of energy production and consumption that are both global and local and in nature. Changes in the social, technical, cultural and political systems of energy will entail both changes and continuities in the organisation of power. Participants will present papers that seek to account for the urban scale in the ways that energy systems can generate uneven political effects and become enrolled in the reproduction and resistance of political power.
Linked Sessions Urban Energy in the Global South (1)
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2017@rgs.org
Electric hybrids: emerging forms of energy transition in southern cities
Sylvy Jaglin (Paris-Est Créteil Val-de-Marne University, France)
Eric Verdeil (Sciences Po, France)
Cities in the developing and emerging countries experience many problems of electricity supply, which conventional responses such as extending the grid cannot fix. Therefore, collective and individual alternatives develop, such as decentralized and hybrid systems. Applying the concept of hybridization to socio-technical studies, the paper articulates a proposition to study them and to evaluate their impact on the future of the electricity system, assuming they represent an emerging but unstudied form of energy transition. This paper exposes the hypotheses that guide a 4-year research which intends to empirically study these emerging configurations (by surveying the actors of the market and the regulation practices) and assess their impact on usual understandings of the transition. We review three main paradigms that have dominated energy research in the South (rural electrification and off-grid contribution; the post-networked city; the infrastructuralisation hypothesis) and we develop our own hypothesis: that of a long lasting hybridization of electrification configurations fueled by the emergence of off-grid devices and logics of unachieved "infrastructuralisation". This hybridization hypothesis differs from assumptions of substitution as well as from ideas of "incremental infrastructure" or "deliverance palliative", based on the idea of improvisation and social collaboration, which refers mainly to "practical norms”, such as the electric poaching. Our proposal instead focuses on the emergence of collective solutions, socially more structuring, technically more complex and temporally more durable. The main challenge is not technical (solutions exist and new ones are always invented) or social (in spite of poverty), it relates to the association between the two: that is to say their assemblage into functional socio-technical systems of supply and the strength of institutions in charge of their management and their regulation. Our hypothesis goes that there is no single assemblage model, each being enshrined in its environment. Our presentation will illustrate the potential of the hypothesis based on cases in Lebanon and South Africa, and present other fieldwork where we intend to develop it.
Tensions in the transition: The politics of electrcity distribution in South Africa
Lucy Baker (University of Sussex, UK)
The nature of electricity supply and distribution in South Africa is embedded within a national legacy of socio-economic and racial inequality, itself shaped by complex interactions between the country’s political and economic institutions, fossil fuel resources and networked infrastructure. However, in recent years the country’s on-going electricity supply crisis and rising electricity tariffs, coupled with rapidly declining costs of solar photovoltaic (PV) technologies have generated incentives for wealthy residential, commercial and industrial consumers to opt out of the incumbent electricity system and generate their own electricity from small-scale embedded generation from rooftop solar PV. In this paper we analyse socio-economic and political tensions in the implementation of embedded generation, with a particular focus on the municipal scale. As we explore, while rooftop solar PV as a ‘disruptive technology’ offers a potential opportunity to reconfigure the current electricity system to one that is more responsive to environmental and social concerns, in South Africa’s case it threatens critical revenue from the country’s high-energy consumers, which is used by the national monopoly utility company and municipalities to cross-subsidise electricity sales, and by municipalities to cross-subsidise other basic services for low-income households. Consequently we ask, how can South Africa ensure that the generation of renewable energy by and for the wealthy does not take place at the cost of service provision to the poor?
Knowledge politics and the co-production of urban energy governance
Jon Phillips (King's College London, UK)
This presentation connects the themes of the conference and the themes of the session through reflections on debates over the de-colonialisation of geographical knowledge and the politics of urban energy governance. South Africa has been an important locus and reference point for recent debates on the de-centering of epistemic and institutional knowledge production and the development of Southern urban theory. Simultaneously, amid persistent racial inequalities the country’s educational institutions have once again become the subject of intense scrutiny from students, who call for the decolonisation of the South African university itself. Within this context, this presentation explores what it might mean to decolonise geographical knowledge in the co-production of urban energy governance in South Africa. The presentation will provide reflections on the research planning and fieldwork experiences of a joint project between UK and South African academic and non-governmental institutions, which has sought to engage with South African municipalities in the co-design of sustainable energy policy and the co-production of knowledge in service of more equitable and sustainable urban energy services in South Africa. My starting point is the ambiguous and conflicted role of the country’s municipalities and energy sector institutions in both the reproduction of post-apartheid urban inequalities and in any potential clean energy transformation of South African cities. The challenge of identifying sites of potential change within government institutions raises recurrent questions of how the co-production of research is involved in the reproduction of the state, for better or worse. Either way, there is no escaping the politics of representation in the production of urban knowledge or urban landscapes.
Energy access, conflict and sustainable development in Mozambique: a multiscalar analysis
Vanesa Castán Broto (University College London, UK)
Idalina Baptista (University of Oxford, UK)
Joshua Kirshner (University of York, UK)
Achieving universal access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy requires dealing with socio-political constraints, particularly in conflict-laden areas. In Mozambique, where armed conflict is resurgent, achieving energy access can support economic development and the eradication of extreme poverty. Mozambique has abundant fossil fuel and hydropower resources and a nascent renewable energy industry. There are also business models, such as the prepaid electricity system, that enable poorer people to access energy in unprecedented rates. What then explains the persistence of energy poverty? Why do some populations lack reliable sources for basic needs such as lighting, cooking and heating water? In this paper we adopt a socio-spatial perspective on energy vulnerability (Bouzarovski and Tirado-Herrero, 2015) to examine the problem of energy access in urban Mozambique. In particular, we focus on the spatial expression of socio-political conflicts and their reflection on energy infrastructures. The paper argues for a multi-dimensional understanding of energy-related conflicts, from the landscape transformations of the extractive industries to the daily conflicts in the provision and use of energy.