Electricity is crucial for socio-economic development

Photo: OER Africa, creative commons

Renewable energy is not necessarily sustainable, if it fails to contribute to poverty reduction, quality education and better health, says Josephine Kaviti Musango, who conducts research on sustainable energy in African cities.

Nordic Africa Institute (NAI) guest researcher Josephine Kaviti Musango, is an associate professor in resource economics and system dynamics at Stellenbosch University in South Africa and is looking at how African cities can achieve the seventh UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG7) on affordable, sustainable and modern energy for all.

About 590 million people in sub-Saharan Africa live without electricity. Rapid urbanisation, unmet electricity market and need to create sustainable cities, are challenges facing urban decision makers in Africa.

“Sustainable energy is very much contextual. It means something else in Africa than in Europe. For us, it is more about socio-economic development than strict environmental concern. Can people afford electricity and does it reduce inequality in society? It should also be a healthy alternative to the use of traditional fuels”, Musango remarks.

Josephine Musango

According to her, developing infrastructure to supply electricity is essential. The challenge is to know how much electricity households need, and not to overlook informal settlements.

In Cape Town, one of the cities that Musango is investigating, about 21 per cent of the population lack access to electricity, mainly those living in informal settlements. Access to electricity in the informal settlements is generally the question of legitimacy.

“We have observed in one case study that households with solar devices do not consider themselves as having access to electricity, and are still waiting to connect to Eskom coal generated electricity, which they regard as ‘quality electricity. This is a socio-political dimension that needs to be recognised. However, the situation is very different in other places. For instance, in Nairobi and Kampala solar energy is widely accepted among people”, Musango says.

Text: Johan Sävström 

This article was originally published by the Nordic Africa Institute on www.nai.uu.se