RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2017


95 Urban Energy in the Global South (1)
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) Jon Phillips (King's College London, UK)
Timetable Wednesday 30 August 2017, Session 3 (14:40 - 16:20)
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 (2)
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2017@rgs.org
South Africa’s energy nexus: Energy security, climate change mitigation and capital expansion
Vasna Ramasar (Lund University, Sweden)
This paper examines the current dilemmas of the South African state in the face of its energy crisis. Historical under-investment has led to a rapidly deteriorating electricity generating system. This system is built on coal-based electricity production, making South Africa the largest greenhouse gas emitter on the African continent and South African cities some of the worst implicated. In response to climate change mitigation agreements, South Africa has a responsibility to switch to a new energy system based on renewable energy sources. However the country is locked in a dilemma where the old fossil fuel-based system is unsustainable but a new renewable energy system has limited traction. In this paper I argue that the drive for capital expansion and the role of the neoliberal state creates a nexus of competing interests that is not conducive to a new and sustainable energy system. Using the theory of the minerals-energy complex in South Africa I investigate how an alliance between elite capital and the state is creating an obstacle to an energy transition. To a limited degree, South Africa has begun development of its renewable energy sector with substantial financial investment by international financial institutions. However this path has been filled with obstacles, which begs the question of whether the state is committed to renewable energy or operating as a green rentier state. I argue that at South Africa’s energy nexus of furthering energy security, climate change mitigation and capital expansion, there cannot be three winners. In order to address this dilemma, the role of local government may be crucial in adopting a new discourse and political practices in support of sustainability rather than neoliberalism.
The urban experience of sixty years of energy transition: the changing ‘energy underclass’ in Cape Town
Stephen Essex (Plymouth University, UK)
Jiska de Groot (University of Cape Town, South Africa)
The aim of this paper is to examine the development of the South Africa’s versions of the modern infrastructural ideal and energy transition for electricity provision and the related urban spatial effects, using longitudinal census data for Cape Town (1996, 2001 and 2011). Three broad, but distinct, chronological phases of energy provision are analysed. First, the Apartheid period (1950-1994), with its enforced racial segregation, established a rather distorted and dual version of the modern infrastructural ideal, whereby electricity was supplied to white areas only. Second, in the post-Apartheid era (1994-), the modern infrastructural ideal was extended to all population groups through an ambitious electrification programme and progressive energy-related pro-poor policies. By 2011, 85 per cent of households had access to electricity for lighting, although significant ‘hidden’ inequalities remained. Third, the prospect of a sustainable energy transition, involving small scale embedded renewable energy generation schemes, has the potential to resolve, accentuate and create new inequalities in the distribution network. While middle to high income groups and businesses might have the ability to pay for such investments to secure their access to power, low income and poor groups do not necessarily have the same options. Such trends also affect the ability of municipalities to cross-subsidise the tariffs of the existing poor consumers as well as fund capital expenditure to extend the grid. The paper argues that recognition of the potential uneven and differentiated urban spatial effects of an energy transition will be integral to the planning and management of such transformations.
Socialism after oil: Urban energy use and inequality in Cuba’s special period
Gustav Cederlöf (King's College London, UK)
The Cuban revolutionary programme identified two processes as imperative to Cuba’s postcolonial development: electrification and urbanisation. By the end of the 1980s, Cuba was one of Latin America’s most urbanised countries. A centralised national electricity system, fuelled with oil from the Soviet Union, and a rationing system for kerosene and liquefied petroleum gas metabolised life in Cuban cities. When the Soviet Union collapsed, Cuba lost 87 percent of its oil supplies in a few years. The human implications of the ‘special period’, which was officially declared in Cuba in the 1990s, were severe in urban areas. On the one hand, this paper examines how the interaction between different social groups and urban energy infrastructure influenced and stratified experiences of the special-period crisis; for example, as the socialist state ‘rationed’ electricity through a system of rolling blackouts. On the other hand, it examines how Cubans in urban households negotiated and normalised their experiences of the special period through narratives around energy use. Drawing on archival sources and interviews from fieldwork in Pinar del Río, the paper suggests that these narratives framed the special period as a collective experience – in contrast to the unequal effects of the lack of urban energy supply – whereby a ‘heroic’, ‘combative’, and ‘inventive’ Cuban people resisted the energy crisis. Hence, the paper examines how social factors intersect with urban infrastructural access and how resulting inequalities are normalised through narratives.
Local and national dynamics in expanding energy systems – An institutionalist perspective on urban energy transition in Arequipa, Peru
Alena Israel (Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Germany)
Mathias Jehling (Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Germany)
Energy systems in the Global South can be conceptualised as expanding systems – in terms of territory, overall consumption and involved institutions and agents. While in the terms of territory, energy supply for rural areas is often looked at, urban areas in the Global South show high dynamics in terms of evolving socio-technical systems. On the level of cities, highly centralised national systems are found to be confronted with a growing importance of renewable and, thus, decentralised energy generation. The city of Arequipa and its environs in Southern Peru offer an interesting case, where two different logics of low-carbon energy transition can be observed. On one hand side, recent years brought a rise in solar thermal devices, used by households. 55.000 solar systems, produced by local companies, ensure hot water provision of households, substituting electricity. On the other hand, a large scale 20 MW PV park was built by an international company, now feeding the growing energy demand of the city through the national grid. We apply an institutionalist approach to the spatial context of Arequipa to analyse the urban energy system. By looking at the structuring effects of institutions and agency of actors on local and national level, we are able to exemplarily scrutinise the role of local actors in urban energy transitions in the Global South. In detail, we are focussing on the role of local authorities within power relations that are questioned by decentralisation. Therefore, a qualitative, explorative field research has been conducted.
Uneven electricity infrastructure in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas as assemblage
Francesca Pilo (University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands)
Inequalities in urban service delivery appear to be an indicator, and a contributor of, urban fragmentation in the cities of the Global South (Graham and Marvin 2001; Bakker 2003; Coutard 2008). However, these inequalities can be seen as a “continuum of configurations” rather than as a simple opposition between “fully connected access” and a “disconnection” to the grid (Jaglin 2004). This presentation addresses an “intermediate situation” of access to the electricity service, that of the precarious connection to the grid in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas. How this uneven electricity infrastructure is produced? Instead of approaching this configuration by reviewing the practices used by inhabitants to access the grid, this presentation will explore this situation by examining spatial electricity management by the private operator, and its relationship to urban insecurity. The actual configuration of an uneven electricity infrastructure will be analyzed as an assemblage (McFarlane and Anderson 2011) produced through heterogeneous dynamics of territorialization, and material processes that reshape the contours of the relation between space and politics.