On 23 January 2018, Majd Jayyousi and Neil Simcock facilitated the “Energy, Electrification, Equity: the Role of Decentralised Electricity and Storage Systems in Meeting East Africa’s Community Needs” workshop that was held at Strathmore University in Nairobi. The workshop was organised under the EVALUATE project in collaboration with Strathmore Energy Research Centre.
The purpose of this workshop was to have an interactive discussion around the current landscape of decentralised electricity and storage systems and their role in meeting community needs. Five guest speakers and more than 20 participants joined the workshop from Kenyan governmental and non-governmental organisations, research institutions and the private sector.
Summary of Workshop Sessions
The workshop began with a welcome speech by Geoffrey Ronoh, the director of Strathmore Energy Research Centre. Majd Jayyousi followed with an overview of the workshop agenda. Afterwards, Neil introduced the EVALUATE project and talked about a recently edited book by him and the EVALUATE team “Energy Poverty and Vulnerability: A Global Perspective”.
Session 1: Decentralised Electricity Systems and Energy Storage in East Africa
The first session started with a presentation from Geoffrey Ronoh on the Kenyan off-grid solar energy sector. While the off-grid solar systems market has been significantly growing in Kenya (second after India), Geoffrey stressed that there needs to be more innovation from market players to make higher tier systems more affordable. Geoffrey also mentioned that for the first time donor and government money is going into electrification through off-grid systems.
The second presentation was delivered by Alice Amayo, programme advisor at GIZ. Alice presented results from GIZ solar hybrid mini-grid pilot programme in Talek village in Kenya. Alice also gave an overview of storage technologies in the market emphasising the need for regulatory frameworks for disposal of lithium-ion batteries
This talk was then followed by Dr. Rebekah Shirley, Research Director, Power for All. Rebekah presented evidence from Power for All recent analysis that indicates that there are five policy accelerators for decentralised energy systems such as: national energy policies, rural electrification plans, technical regulation, quality standards, and supportive financial policies.
After the coffee break, the session was resumed by Jechoniah Kitala, consultancy manager and head of energy programmes at Practical Action, Eastern Africa. Jechoniah talked about Practical Action ‘poor people’s energy outlook’ study. In all 4 communities in Kenya, results show that mini-grids sometimes combined with solar home systems for dispersed households are either cheaper than or cost-competitive with grid extension. He also highlighted the importance of community participation and recognising the differentiated energy needs of women and men in energy systems.
The last speaker of the session was Dr. Linda Davis, Director of Strategic Partnerships, wPOWER Hub. Linda discussed essential measures required to accelerate women’s involvement in clean energy entrepreneurship such as; accessible entrepreneurship opportunities and clean energy products, affordable capital for entrepreneurs and flexible payment options, and agency to address cultural barriers for women entrepreneurs.
Session 2: Panel Discussion
In the second session of the workshop, speakers were invited to a panel discussion which mainly focused on energy storage prospects and issues in East Africa. The discussion tackled issues of Li-ion batteries’ falling costs, lack of adequate capacity in companies to install and maintain batteries, proper end of life management and better laws for batteries (especially for Li-ion as lead-acid is generally well handled), and the need for enforceable localised performance standards. One panellist mentioned that from a gender perspective, the issue of battery life comes to the surface, as usually in households women’s needs are met last. On the other hand, panellists discussed the lack of synergy between government entities and integrated cross-cutting visions. It was emphasised that evidence must be made available to policymakers on how electrification is connected to other sectors to utilise public funds more efficiently.
Session 3: Perspectives on Decentralised Electricity Systems and Services
After lunch, participants gathered back for the third session for a mapping activity that aimed to understand how different types of decentralised electricity systems met community needs. When discussing and ranking needs, participants generally considered community electricity needs as top priority. Many people specifically mentioned that public lighting is one of the most important electricity services, especially for security purposes in urban contexts. Electricity for mobile phones was identified as a very important service, particularly since mobiles are multi-functional devices that can be used for banking, news, communication, and access to information which was stated as ‘important for democracy’. The issue of poor products quality (especially for pico and solar home systems) was mentioned more than once when discussing different types of systems.
Session 4: Experiences with Energy Storage
In session 4 of the workshop, the participants engaged in an informal discussion around experiences with energy storage. The aim of the session was to understand available storage technologies, local uses and perceptions, and related challenges and opportunities. Some participants mentioned that proper user education is needed especially in a rural context as improper handling of the system leads to system degradation, overcharging and battery draining. The discussion also included e-waste and battery end of life issues, substandard short-lived projects, faulty system designs, and the lack of unified industry standards for batteries that often have various recommended values for discharging.