April 25 2024 0Comment

A Workshop on Mini-grids and Public Participation in Energy Decisions in Lusaka, Zambia, 9-10 April 2024

The ‘Energy Democracy and the Politics of Energy Transition in African Countries’ (ENR-DEMOS) project team hosted an in-person workshop in Lusaka, Zambia, on 9-10 April 2024. The workshop had three main aims: to examine the degree of concrete implementation on energy democracy in the context of African countries; to explore the prospects of engendering community participation in energy project development and implementation phases; to establish key factors responsible for successfully implementing solar mini-grids in African countries. In this regard, the workshop had speakers who presented on topics around energy democracy related to mini-grid implementation, gender and energy access, and politics and energy governance. These are some of the highlights of the workshop.



Dr. Xavier Lemaire gave the workshop’s introductory presentation, submitting an understanding of the principles of the energy democracy concept, its use within lower-middle-income countries, and implications for reimagining decentralised energy provision in Sub-Saharan Africa. He advocates for promoting energy citizenship down to the community level that incorporates citizen participation at every stage of an energy project’s development, where citizen participation is inclusive across gender, age, social status, or class through the suite of energy decision-making processes.  This provided a focal understanding of the notion of energy democracy that set the tone for discussion during the workshop.

Xavier LEMAIRE Energy Democracy in Africa ENR-Demos workshop 9-10 April 2024



Prof. Subhes Bhattacharyya gave an overview and presentation of outcomes of the UKRI GCRF funded SIGMA project – the Sustainability, Inclusiveness and Governance of Mini-Grids in Africa. The SIGMA project is a collaborative project with multinational partners that looks to improve the understanding of the aforementioned three aspects within the context of project cases in Senegal, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Kenya. From an energy democracy perspective, his presentation highlighted that incorporating inclusiveness in mini-grid projects must also consider improving interdependent factors in advancing energy access, such as enabling demand-side subsidies and strengthening conducive regulatory frameworks. Ultimately, as a takeaway from the projects examined within the four countries, there is significant room for improvement in increasing equitably realised socio-economic benefits and end-user satisfaction from sustainable energy projects over the long term; support measures are needed to realise inclusive opportunities for local beneficiaries through mini-grid developmental efforts.

Subhes BHATTACHARYYA SIGMA findings for ENR-Demos workshop 9-10 April 2024



Ms Emilie Etienne’s presentation focused on examining the sustainability of solar mini-grids in Kenya and Senegal. From her research, looking comparatively at the outcomes of mini-grids operating in the two countries, she observes two prominent issues with solar mini-grids that pertain to reliability – decentralised electricity systems are fraught with financial problems due to low tariffs and high maintenance costs, and accountability – where stringent accountability mechanisms are not in place to incentivise long-term maintenance solutions for solar mini-grids. This is compounded by the competing priorities on the agendas of state agencies that influence the effectiveness of service reliability efforts. As such, while accountability chains exist within these countries, they are marred by issues presented that make them sub-optimal.

Emilie ETIENNE Mini-grids Accountability Senegal Kenya ENR-Demos workshop 9-10 April 2024

Nickson BUKACHI Energy Democracy and Transition – Kenya mini-grids ENR-Demos workshop 9-10 April 2024



For lessons from Southern Africa, Dr Seroala Tsoeu-Ntokoane presented an overview of the work the National University of Lesotho (NUL) has undertaken, looking at lessons learned from analysing existing citizen participation within several Lesotho-based mini-grid projects. Her presentation highlighted their finding that there is no uniformity in the level of community involvement across implemented mini-grid projects, observing that the highest level of participation tend to exist within community-owned and independent or private mini-grids. In contrast, the lowest levels could be observed in state-owned mini-grids. Further, they find that the sustainability of these mini-grids could have a similar correlative trend to their level of citizen participation. These results have culminated in recommendations delivered by NUL that have been well-received by Lesotho policymakers, including developing an Integrated Master Plan that should set a minimum threshold for local participation and ownership.

Seroala TSOEU-NTOKOANE Lesotho Case ENR-Demos workshop 9-10 April 2024



The first panel discussion of the workshop, chaired by Dr Jon Cloke, pivoted more specifically to the subject of gender and energy access. The discussion considered the impacts of energy and electrification access on women, who are typically employed in informal economy activities and often do not equally or equitably receive the benefits of energy access. The panel, which included Dr Mamoeketsi Ntho and Dr Raihana Ferdous as discussants, considered the importance of societal and cultural norms in influencing gender roles and behaviours, the need to mainstream gender in the energy sector to address gender challenges and imbalances and move towards equitable and democratic energy development. During this panel, a short film by Dr Ferdous, aired during the workshop, accentuated the plight of women in Bangladesh regarding such gender inequality issues around energy access more concretely.

Jon CLOKE Women, Renewable Energy and Energy Democracy ENR-Demos workshop 9-10 April 2024

Mamoeketsi NTHO Gender and Energy ENR-Demos workshop 9-10 April 2024



The second day of the workshop opened with a presentation by Mr Anshuman Lath, a rural energy project developer based in India, who gave his experiences developing locally-based community-driven energy solutions to underserved rural and last-mile communities. These include solar micro-grids, solar water pumps, biogas cooking grids, and institution-level energy systems. Key take-away messages from his presentation included that:  deep community interaction is vital to project success, particularly in also understanding community needs and aspirations; the development of trust from the community can be significant, which in India has been seen through partnerships with social organisations that are present on the ground and are already working with and have garnered respect from communities; community ownership is important to the long-term sustainability of projects, where community members can develop an inherent motivation to maintain and govern the project. A key feature of Gram Oorja’s success has been adhering to its principle of harnessing local energy resources to develop local energy solutions close to remote communities who then take ownership of driving and sustaining their energy systems or products.

Anshuman LATH Gram Oorja Remote Village Energy Access ENR-Demos workshop 9-10 April 2024



In looking at holistic approaches to delivering rural energy access, Mr Clement Silavwe presented the demand-side management measures and strategies being pursued to promote energy efficiency in rural Zambia. These target areas such as lighting, cooking and water heating, and productive use operators in rural areas, where implementing energy-efficient appliances such as LED bulbs, solar geysers, and energy-efficient equipment can have the highest cost- and energy-saving impacts on these communities. Mr Silavwe highlighted that energy-efficiency efforts require a multidimensional approach that includes bestowing appropriate business models and financing mechanisms to enable energy efficiency, greater education and awareness efforts to demonstrate its multiple co-benefits, and market transformation and capacity building to enable energy-efficiency delivery.

Clement SILAVWE Energy efficiency as an innovative approach ENR-Demos workshop 9-10 April 2024



The second and final workshop panel discussion, chaired by Mr Michael Sakala, considered how we can overcome the various barriers to the success of mini-grid implementation. To help kick-start the discussion, presentations were first given by Dr Matthew Orosz and Mr Agnelli Kafuwe (on behalf of Mr Abdoulaye BA) on the demonstrated successes of delivering mini-grid solutions in Lesotho and on the strategic plan of energy service delivery in Senegal, respectively.

Abdoulaye BA COSEER Le secteur de l’énergie au Senegal ENR-Demos workshop 9-10 April 2024



The final presentation of the workshop was given by Dr Khalebe Matlosa, who put forward an argument for public participation being a central tenet of a democratic and inclusive process, both within and outside the energy sector. Dr Matlosa gave a deep dive into the different facets of public participation, delved into the related concept of energy citizenship, and subsequently provided context for public participation and its relationship to and power within political governance systems, within the African framework.  He concluded on the need of more meaningful assimilation of public participation processes within politics, policy, and development activities, including for the energy sector.


Author: Nandi Mbazima


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