Using Renewable Energy Technologies (RETs) to Address Energy Poverty in Urban Areas of Developing Countries
Cities and urban centres in developing countries the world over possess vast renewable energy resources. Yet the residents of these cities continue to suffer from the debilitating consequences of energy poverty. My home city of Nairobi was for a long time known by the fond moniker of “the green city under the sun”. Due to a variety of reasons, the greenness is long gone but the sun still remains. Properly harnessed decentralised solar PV systems would undoubtedly ease the prevailing supply and distribution challenges that mean that only a meagre 50% of Nairobi’s households have access to electricity.
The fact that the presence of sufficient sunshine is not unique to Nairobi means that cities like Dar es Salaam, Lagos, Mumbai and many others can also benefit from decentralised solar PV generation to address the shortfalls associated with an inadequate power infrastructure and the ever-growing burden of unplanned urbanisation. Other renewable energy resources including the abundant winds in coastal cities and towns and the rivers and streams that flow through urban areas can be used for the same purpose while mitigating climate change. The mountains of waste that lie uncollected in informal housing settlements posing serious health and environmental hazards can also be used to generate much needed energy.
City authorities and electricity companies may not feel compelled to harness these resources. This is probably due to the reality that those hit hardest by energy poverty live in slums with no security of tenure and providing them with services would be tantamount to legitimising the existence of informal settlements. However, slum households’ willingness to pay for electricity is directly linked to the cost savings they make from not having to pay for more expensive energy sources like kerosene and dry cells. Given the ready availability of the resources, regularised and decentralised RET generation using solar PV, wind energy, micro-hydro or waste to energy represent the most viable way of addressing energy poverty in urban settings, enhancing the beneficiaries’ quality of life through improved lighting and stimulating the economy by spurring income generation activities.
Do RETs in your opinion have the potential to alleviate energy poverty in urban areas? If so why is it that they have mostly been used in rural electrification despite the fact that it can be argued quite reasonably that cities and urban centres with their higher population densities provide even more logical settings for their utilisation?