UCL Energy and Development Group



The UCL energy and development group produces high quality, solution-focussed interdisciplinary research in close collaboration with a wide range of partners in the Global South.


Lead Publication

Mapping synergies and trade-offs between energy and the Sustainable Development Goals

The group recently launched a publication in Nature Energy which maps the contribution of energy to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (available here). Evidence of synergies between 143 Targets and efforts to achieve SDG7 have been found, meaning that ~85% of 2030 Agenda targets are mutually reinforcing with SDG7. We also found evidence of trade-offs between SDG7 and ~35% of the 2030 Agenda targets. Many of these trade-offs relate to tensions between the need to rapidly expand access to basic services, and the need for efficient energy systems underpinned by renewable resources.  


Other Publications

Advancing the Implementation of SDGs in Brazil by Integrating Water-Energy Nexus and Legal Principles for Better Governance

Authors: Carvalho, P., & Spataru, C

The close relationship between water, energy and sustainable development has been on the international political radar for some time. The multiple targets contained in the newly developed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) often crosscut and refer to more than one sustainable goal, suggesting the need to consider the potential for synergies and analyse the nature and extent of trade-offs. SDGs subscribe Brazil to new action targets that explicitly crosscut and refer to multiple goals and resources (e.g., water, energy). Current work on indicators concluded Brazil should consider recognising and forging connections between goals but lacked to consider any synergies between water and energy (SDG6, SDG7). However, a challenge is that energy and water in Brazil are dependent and serve as input of each other but follow two different management approaches: electricity is centrally governed by the federal government (taking a top-down approach), while the water sector is polycentric (following a bottom-up approach). Such institutional and administrative differences create the potential for tensions in drawing these sectors together according to the principle of integration, in order to create an integrated and holistic approach to policy making, decision making and functional operation of the sectors. This potential for disconnection also leads to serious instances of environmental injustices. This study contributes to existing studies with a normative framework (sustainable development) from which to derive further sense of the relationship between water and energy; and provides the legal tools that informs the values (legal principles), which will support the development of ethical nexus regimes, so that the negotiation of outcomes between more coherent water and energy policies also promote fairness within their regimes.


Cross-sectional Integration of the Water-energy Nexus in Brazil

Authors: Semertzidis, T., Spataru, C., & Bleischwitz, R

This paper analyses the cross-sectoral integration of the water-energy nexus in Brazil. Recent droughts resulted in unprecedented water scarcity. This caused water shortages for population and agriculture, as well as for electricity production (hydropower being the main source of electricity production). As a result, the system became more vulnerable to blackouts. To alleviate the problem, fossil fuels were used as a back up. Droughts, floods and other water-related problems will not dissipate as time goes by in Brazil. The dependency on one single predominant source (hydropower) makes Brazil’s electricity supply vulnerable. This study shows through data analysis, flow diagrams and metrics the interrelation between water and energy. Based on historical data, the analysis shows the importance of the water demand for hydropower, cooling for thermal plants, and the extraction and production of biofuels, as well as of the energy demand of water services (water supply, wastewater treatment).


Integration of water and energy planning to promote sustainability

Authors: Carvalho, P., Spataru, C., & Bleischwitz, R

This paper examines the inter-linkages between the water and energy sectors and their planning processes, by describing a comprehensive analytical tool developed to evaluate water energy nexus operational cost trends and planning to assist decision makers in exploring and evaluating alternative courses of action. Brazil has been chosen as a case study, because its electricity production is highly dependent on water to keep affordable tariffs, which in turn also serves as input to other important sectors, such as water services and sanitation, and raises disputes especially in basins marked by water scarcity, such as the São Francisco basin. In light of hydrological factors (e.g., droughts) and non-hydrological factors (e.g., chronic delays in delivery of new plants) there has been water availability constraints for electricity generation and energy prices have risen, while water quantity and quality have decreased for multiple users. Both of which impact negatively on water services and sanitation providers, because electricity figures as their fastest growing costs in times when they need more energy to source water from longer distances, or deeper levels because of water quantity and quality issues. Energy and water are characterized as common pool resources with planning processes along silos in Brazil that do not serve well the purpose of sustainable development. Better integrated water-energy plans at basin level is the alternative proposed under this paper to advance sustainability and mitigate the risks related to water scarcity that have resulted in negative impacts on both electricity and water sectors.


Sustainable development of West African Power Pool: Increasing solar energy integration and regional electricity trade

Authors: Adeoye, O., & Spataru, C

The West African region is currently experiencing the challenge of meeting rapidly the growing electricity demand which has played a critical role in the low economic development rate of the region. To tackle these challenges, the West African Power Pool was established to build regional power plants and interconnected transmission infrastructures between the countries. In this study, we develop a multi-region economic dispatch model with hourly simulations to evaluate the impact of increased integration of solar PV on the interconnected West Africa electricity network. Our results show the high integration of solar PV plants reduces the supply-demand gap and load shedding in the region. All countries in the region potentially benefit from avoided generation cost and decrease in unserved electricity demand. Our study presents a sustainable strategy to diversify from hydro and gas regional projects and invest in solar PV in order to improve electricity supply and reduce the high electricity prices in the region.


The Nexus: Estimation of Water Consumption for Hydropower in Brazil

Authors: Semertzidis, T., Spataru, C., & Bleischwitz, R

Recent major droughts in Brazil have given rise to discussions about water availability and security in relation to energy production. The relationship of the two resources, the water-energy nexus, is recognised as being of importance in literature and metrics for its estimation and understanding are sought after. One important aspect in understanding the water-energy nexus of hydroelectricity is estimating its water consumption and also its water footprint. In order to do this, this study uses a modified Penman-Monteith method to estimate evaporation from Brazil’s reservoirs for the period 2010-2016 and subsequently calculates the water footprint of hydroelectricity reservoirs. The results show the evaporation variation in space and time in the reservoirs and the differences of water consumed per unit of energy in Brazil. The discussion provides insight as to how the results can be valuable for future management and planning purposes.


Solar Home Systems and Solar Lanterns in Rural Areas of the Global South: what Impact?

Authors: Lemaire, X

Assessing the extent of evidence available relating to the impact of solar energy for households (HHs) in developing countries, surveys are reviewed focusing on the impact of pico-photovoltaic (e.g., solar lanterns) or solar home systems (SHS) on rural HHs and directly related economic activities of their occupiers. Ninety-eight documents have been analyzed. Areas of enquiry have included the impact of small individual solar photovoltaic systems on different facets of the life of HHs' occupiers: their education, health, finance, livelihoods, and social relations. Research on the impact of small solar systems contradicts the commonly accepted idea that small solar systems—due to their limited capacity—cannot have an impact in terms of development. In actual fact, these systems seem to have a significant impact in terms of quality of life for their users and in helping them to keep connected to the global world by supplying power to mobile phones and television sets. Nevertheless, it is not yet possible to draw definitive conclusions on their quantitative impact in specific areas, except for: (a) evidence of increase of quality lighting, (b) strong evidence of cost savings when kerosene lamps are replaced by solar lighting, and (c) evidence on the impact of solar lighting on the time of studying of children and quality of education. Finally, indications are given on the kind of research which could be conducted to fill current gaps in demonstrating evidence of the impact of small individual solar systems.


The potential of performance targets (imihigo) as drivers of energy planning and extending access to off‐grid energy in rural Rwanda

Authors: Bisaga, I., Parikh, P., Mulugetta, Y., & Hailu, Y

Rwanda has one of the lowest electrification rates in Sub‐Saharan Africa and ambitious targets of boosting energy access, with an encouraged private sector involvement. However, barriers such as end‐user awareness and participation in policy and business model design prohibit the pace of rural electrification. A case of Rwanda is analyzed, pointing to the potential of the imihigo (performance contracts) framework. Given the adoption of household‐level performance contracts, which can include energy access, it is proposed they could drive local participation among off‐grid communities. Results of a survey with 218 users of Solar Home Systems in North‐Western Rwanda and from five focus groups show that village‐level energy targets impact on the prioritization of energy target setting among households. Including off‐grid energy options in the imihigo booklets distributed to households could influence awareness raising and allow private sector providers to act in a more targeted way, prioritizing areas with most prevalent energy targets. Additionally, community meetings (umuganda) tied to imihigo offer participatory spaces for information and feedback sharing. These will assist in the design of energy planning and business models, which best fit local needs and respond to the challenges faced by the energy poor.


To climb or not to climb? Investigating energy use behaviour among Solar Home System adopters through energy ladder and social practice lens

Authors: Bisaga, I. M., & Parikh, P

Solar Home Systems (SHSs) and other off-grid solutions have shown promise in addressing the energy access gap for those with no or unreliable grid services. With that promise comes the expectation to boost socio-economic well-being of newly-connected households, who will continue climbing up the energy ladder. Despite the growing appreciation for the need to go beyond the techno-economics of energy access, and the recognition of the value of socio-technical systems perspective, the wider sociology of energy consumption and behaviour among adopters of off-grid solar solutions has been poorly explored. In this paper, we apply the Social Practice Theory (SPT) and the energy and solar energy ladder framework to analyse energy consumption and the changing social practices of SHSs users in Rwanda. We find that social practices change dynamically and depend on available appliances, whereas energy consumption follows a complex path but does not increase in a linear manner with time or more appliances. Insights can prove useful for public and private agencies working on off-grid electrification, offering a new perspective on the energy and solar energy ladder concepts while also showing the importance of social aspects of energy access even at relatively low levels of provision currently offered by SHSs.


A research agenda for a people-centred approach to energy access in the urbanising global south

Authors: Castan broto, V., Stevens, L., Ackom, E., Tomei, J., Parikh, P., To, L. S., Mulugetta, Y

Energy access is typically viewed as a problem for rural areas, but people living in urban settings also face energy challenges that have not received sufficient attention. A revised agenda in research and practice that puts the user and local planning complexities centre stage is needed to change the way we look at energy access in urban areas, to understand the implications of the concentration of vulnerable people in slums and to identify opportunities for planned management and innovation that can deliver urban energy transitions while leaving no one behind. Here, we propose a research agenda focused on three key issues: understanding the needs of urban energy users; enabling the use of context-specific, disaggregated data; and engaging with effective modes of energy and urban governance. This agenda requires interdisciplinary scholarship across the social and physical sciences to support local action and deliver large-scale, inclusive transformations.
 Most people without access to electricity and clean fuels live in rural areas1. Nevertheless, the challenges of energy access in urban areas are also considerable and attract policy attention. Over 880 million people live in slums in developing regions, in households that suffer multiple deprivations in urban services, space and security of tenure2. Such households routinely lack access to a reliable and affordable supply of electricity and clean fuels. About 105 million people lack electricity in urban areas in sub-Saharan Africa alone3. In countries such as Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda or Tanzania, less than half of the urban households have access to an electricity connection2. People living in urban areas face specific energy challenges, including unreliability of energy services, lack of affordability, lack of access to microfinance and insecurities related to tenure issues and the erroneous perceptions of slums4.
 Progress towards global objectives for universal energy access has been disappointing since the UN Secretary-General launched them in 2011. According to the Global Tracking Framework3, 1.05 billion people worldwide did not have access to electricity in 2014, down from 1.06 billion in 2012. The access rate increased by 0.27% per year, which is not sufficient to achieve the goal of universal electrification by 2030. The figures for access to clean cooking are even more discouraging: over 3 billion people still lacked access to clean fuels and technologies in 2014. With a rate of improvement of 0.46% a year, the goal of universal access to clean fuels and technologies by 2030 seems unachievable.
 The challenge of achieving universal access to modern energy services in urban areas highlights the strong linkages between two Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), SDG7 (Affordable and Clean Energy) and SDG11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities). Both SDGs can be advanced simultaneously through forms of inclusive urban planning that promote energy sustainability and resilience. This requires two changes in policy approaches.
 First, policies need to address the lack of installed capacity for energy access and limited availability of clean fuels, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa5. Addressing this persistent challenge will require a substantial amount of public finance while recognizing a diversity of feasible provision models6,7. Progress has concentrated in Asia, where multi-actor efforts in the context of industrialization have improved the rates of energy access in urban areas. For example, in Indonesia, a national-level programme including governmental institutions, businesses and consumers led to a large shift from kerosene to liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and contributed directly to the alleviation of extreme poverty8,9. In sub-Saharan Africa, in contrast, energy access rates remain stagnant. Energy access rates have even worsened in countries such as Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
 Second, there is a need to challenge dominant paradigms of energy provision. Unfortunately, the assumption that urbanization is akin to an extension of the electricity grid has long dominated debates of energy access in urban areas. This assumption puts a disproportionate emphasis on electrification at the expense of understanding the need for fuels and technologies for clean cooking10,11. Moreover, this assumption obscures the complex ways in which energy access barriers manifest in urban areas and, in particular, the specific limitations that emerge in inadequately serviced, informal or peri-urban areas12,13,14,15,16. Delivering sustainable energy access in urban areas requires a multidimensional understanding of users’ needs within diverse urban contexts.
 These two policy changes call for a renewed research agenda on universal access to sustainable energy in urban areas. In this Perspective, we outline such an agenda. We frame progress towards sustainable energy as a complex, multifaceted challenge in the next section. Delving deeper into why the global energy challenge continues to haunt contemporary societies in the age of urbanization, we then analyse barriers to energy access in urban areas. Finally, alongside a discussion of policy implications, we outline the contours of an interdisciplinary research agenda that considers users’ needs, explores data gaps and prioritizes systems of governance that can deliver urban energy services in a sustainable and equitable manner.


Scalable off-grid energy services enabled by IoT: A case study of BBOXX SMART Solar

Authors: Bisaga, I., Puźniak-Holford, N., Grealish, A., Baker-Brian, C., & Parikh, P

This case study intends to show how Internet of Things (IoT) technology can be used to tackle development challenges by using the case study of BBOXX- a Solar Home Systems provider operating in South-Western Kenya and across Rwanda, and its SMART Solar platform applied to nearly 20,000 currently active systems. It aims to highlight the benefits of such technology to its users and how it can be utilised to create scalable business models for energy access through improved customer understanding. However, it also shows the difficulties in designing, developing and deploying appropriate technologies in an affordable and impactful way. Similar applications in the water sector are briefly looked at to further explore the potential and the challenges of IoT technologies in driving social and economic development. The case study raises ethical questions about the storage, collection and sharing of data and explores whether the data protection models prevalent in the developed world are applicable in a development context. It offers ideas for future research and policy recommendations, pointing to the need of including financial, socio-economic and ethical considerations in the processes of innovative solutions development.


Social structure, reasonable gain, and entrepreneurship in Africa

Authors: George, G., Kotha, R., Parikh, P., Alnuaimi, T., & Bahaj, A. S

In the context of desperate poverty, characterized by households at subsistence level that experience economic loss and social fracture, explanations for why individuals undertake entry into entrepreneurship are limited. We find that individuals rely on their social relationships to enable entrepreneurial activities that have the potential to create a reasonable income gain. In a sample of 1,049 households in rural Kenya, we test whether the disintegration of social structure attenuates entrepreneurial behavior. When coupled with factors such as income loss, gender of the household head, and access to communal resources, social structure plays a pivotal role in entrepreneurial action. We propose that the search for reasonable income gain is a key driver of entrepreneurial action at subsistence levels, thereby adding to behavioral explanations of entrepreneurship.


An integrated framework for rural electrification: Adopting a user-centric approach to business model development

Authors: Schillebeeckx, S. J. D., Parikh, P., Bansal, R., & George, G

Rural electrification (RE) has gained prominence over the past two decades as an effective means for improving living conditions. This growth has largely been driven by socio-economic and political imperatives to improve rural livelihood and by technological innovation. Based on a content analysis of 232 scholarly articles, the literature is categorized into four focal lenses: technology, institutional, viability and user-centric. We find that the first two dominate the RE debate. The viability lens has been used less frequently, whilst the user-centric lens began to engage scholars as late as 2007. We provide an overview of the technological, institutional and viability lenses, and elaborate upon the user-centric lens in greater detail. For energy policy and practice, we combine the four lenses to develop a business model framework that policy makers, practitioners and investors could use to assess RE projects or to design future rural electrification strategies.


Empowering change: The effects of energy provision on individual aspirations in slum communities

Authors: Parikh, P., Chaturvedi Sankalp, & Gerard George

This paper discusses the role of energy provision in influencing the social aspirations of people living in slums. We examine factors that influence the shift in aspirations in five slum settlements using data from 500 interviews conducted in serviced and non-serviced slums from the state of Gujarat in India. The non-serviced slums did not have access to basic services namely water, sanitation, energy, roads, solid waste and rainwater management. We find empirical evidence which suggests that when basic infrastructure provisions are met, slum dwellers shift their focus from lower order aspirations to the higher order aspirations like health, education, housing and land ownership. We argue that energy provision enhances productivity and enables slum dwellers to shift their aspirations upwards. Furthermore, we test the effect of work days lost due to illness on the relationship between higher order aspirations and aspirations for energy provision. When provision of energy is low, higher work day loss dampens higher order aspirations. For policy makers, this study highlights the critical link between the infrastructure services preferred by slum dwellers and their social aspirations for growth.


Resilience of the Eastern African electricity sector to climate driven changes in hydropower generation

Authors: Oliver Broad

Notwithstanding current heavy dependence on gas-fired electricity generation in the Eastern African Power Pool (EAPP), hydropower is expected to play an essential role in improving electricity access in the region. Expansion planning of electricity infrastructure is critical to support investment and maintaining balanced consumer electricity prices. Variations in water availability due to a changing climate could leave hydro infrastructure stranded or result in underutilization of available resources. In this study, we develop a framework consisting of long-term models for electricity supply and water systems management, to assess the vulnerability of potential expansion plans to the effects of climate change. We find that the most resilient EAPP rollout strategy corresponds to a plan optimised for a slightly wetter climate compared to historical trends. This study demonstrates that failing to climate-proof infrastructure investments can result in significant electricity price fluctuations in selected countries (Uganda & Tanzania) while others, such as Egypt, are less vulnerable.