Tag Archives: impact

The Emerging Impacts and Evolving Development Framework for Thermal Energy Services

Binu Parthan of Sustainable Energy Associates writes on developmental frameworks and the emerging sphere of thermal energy services in them.

When the STEPs project received the nod from EPSRC and DfID in 2012, energy access in developing countries was all about electrification and Cookstoves. The assumption was that if you provide an efficient biomass Cookstove to a household and the thermal energy access problem was solved. So lot of the focus in 2012 was on cooking and Cookstoves. Efforts then were essentially focussed on developing more efficient Cookstoves and reducing the cost of Cookstoves. In addition to Biomass Cookstoves, there were also efforts which were focussed on solar cooking focussed. So the space was divided between different technologies and limited to biomass and solar energy technologies.

When STEPs project was proposed in 2012, where we encouraged to consider thermal energy as a service for cooking, space and water heating and applications, the typical reaction was that it was a just another Cookstoves project. Often the challenge was that people – both practitioners and researchers had not heard about the concept and were often quick to dismiss it. Another challenge was when we advocated technology neutrality meaning that the thermal energy services may be delivered through renewables, LPG or electricity there was certainly a lot of discomfort as if was always been about Cookstoves and technologies. There were also suggestions that cooking technologies should be limited to renewable energy and LPG was fossil fuel based and was not an option for developing countries etc.

BP cookstove lesotho

A traditional wood stove for space heating in Lesotho. Image Credit: Sustainable Energy Associates

The STEPs project team has since made a number of efforts to increase awareness about the need to look at thermal energy as a service rather than a product. We spoke at several events that had linkages to the energy access agenda and targeting development agencies and governments. Our team reviewed and commented on the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) drafts and objected to the emphasis on Cookstoves in the earlier drafts. We also emphasised the need for considering space heating and sanitation energy needs and the need for technology neutrality.

We also carried out a questionnaire survey during second half of 2014 to early 2015 with 2 objectives 1) to popularise the project and the idea of thermal energy services and 2) to gather data for the project outputs. The questionnaires that were sent out to 64 experts drawn from development agencies, practitioners and researchers with response collected through Survey Monkey, response forms and through phone interviews. The STEPs team also held discussions with two South African rural energy enterprises to encourage them to consider an energy service offering. We reviewed and commented on the Global Tracking Framework (GTF) and the multi-tier framework for energy access for the UN’s initiative on Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All).

We also continued to look for opportunities to pilot the STEPs model in an actual implementation context and continued our discussions with United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Lesotho. It was important for us that STEPs as an effort to go beyond a collection of publications and outputs to an effort which will make a tangible impact on public policy as well as thermal energy use in developing countries.

Now with the project in its third and final year we are seeing the impact of the some of our persistent efforts:

  • The current and final text and the background narrative on SDG 7 on energy talks about cooking and heating and the targets for SDG 7 is technology neutral, silent on technologies and talks about energy services. The final target reads as ‘By 2030, ensure universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services’. As the global development agenda on energy during 2016-2030 will be guided by the SDG framework, this will allow a level playing ground for thermal energy services and hopefully attract more resources to support thermal energy services in developing countries;

  • The SE4All GTF update in 2015 is more technology neutral and includes space heating. The multi-tier frameworks also place an emphasis on service, fuel supply etc. and a new multi-tier framework has been included for space heating. As the GTF and multi-tier framework is likely to be used by World Bank and other development agencies for energy access projects/programmes, this may support the implementation of more thermal energy access initiatives.

  • We have had one South African private enterprise – AES requesting the project for business advice on offering an energy service business proposition;

  • Responses from 32 out of 64 organisations to the questionnaire survey including development agencies such as World Bank, IFC, UNIDO, UN-ESCAP, GIZ practitioners such as NuRa Energy, Practical Action, Selco, Simpa, BGF, S3IDF, ECS, ACE, practitioner networks such as GVEP, GACC, Ashden and energy research organisations such as IIASA, Imperial College, Stellenbosch University, TERI etc and the World LPG Association. Many of these organisations expressed a desire to be updated on the STEPs project details.

  • Although we faced delays in implementation with the UNDP Lesotho project where we wanted to integrate the STEPs model for thermal energy services, we have managed to integrate the STEPs thermal energy services model into a much larger project in Afghanistan. The project which began implementation in 2016, will implement the thermal energy services model in about 200 villages benefitting about 20,000 households;

During this final year in 2016, we will continue to focus on disseminating results from the research and deepening our influence and impacts with actual on the ground projects.

– Binu Parthan, SEA


SMEs and Clean Energy for Emerging Markets Event – London, UK

STEPs project partners attended an event, jointly run by the DECC, Knowledge Transfer Network, Loughborough University, the LCEDN and the UKCDS, entitled “SMEs and clean energy for emerging markets: challenges and opportunities”. This event was held on the 29th September 2014 at the Wellcome Trust, London, UK. This event sought to bring together representatives from the academic, government, non-government and private sectors, to discuss the current situation, opportunities and challenges to the growth of small and medium enterprise in the clean energy sector for developing economies. Several plenary sessions were held over the course of the day, and stalls were also present from a wide range of institutions, organisations and companies, including Xavier Lemaire and Daniel Kerr from UCL, presenting the STEPs project.

The day began with an establishing session on the global opportunities for SME development in emerging markets. Presenters from Knowledge Transfer Networks Ltd, SolarCentury and SolarAid highlighted a number of challenges facing clean energy provision in markets globally, particularly in developing economies. These ranged from the challenges of replacing aging infrastructure in developed economies, to those of reaching consumers in poverty in rural areas of developing countries. Consistently highlighted were the sobering figures accepted by the international community on energy access: with over 1 billion people still lacking electricity access, and 2.6 billion projected to lack clean thermal energy access by 2020, the presenters made clear the vast potential for SMEs to bridge the gap in energy services provision to emerging markets.

Following this was a session on innovation in energy services for emerging economies. The presenters, representing X-wind, Buffalo Grid and Renovagen, were all private-sector participants in the event, being entrepreneurs involved in SMEs for clean energy development. The presentations focused on the efforts of the companies to develop products and services for emerging markets. X-wind is a company producing resilient, vertical-axis wind turbines for community-scale deployment. Buffalo Grid produces pay-as-you-go solar-powered electricity and wireless internet base stations for deployment in off-grid communities. Renovagen is a new start-up producing fast-deploying PV micro-grids for off-grid communities, as well as in disaster relief and industrial applications, based on a novel flexible PV array. These organisations shared a number of features: all were looking to expand energy services access in developing economies, and they also all identified the need to tailor the product or service to the challenges of emerging market contexts. For example, resilience was a key feature of X-wind turbines, with low maintenance requirements improving reliability. The prevalence of mobile connectivity in the developing world, particularly Sub-Saharan Africa, was also incorporated into the Buffalo Grid product design, with mobile charging being identified as a key service to offer for increased take-up of the product. This point was also discussed in more detail in the fourth session.

Participants were encouraged to network over lunch and visit the presentation booths. The STEPs project booth received a good amount of interest from researchers and entrepreneurs interested in thermal energy access, and business models for energy access more broadly.

The third plenary session focused on financing and support for SMEs, and access to finance. Representatives from the Shell Foundation, UKTI and Enclude Capital Advisory presented on available and appropriate financing routes and the challenges to financial access in emerging markets, as well as the support available for SMEs from financial, governmental and non-governmental institutions. Appropriate finance for SMEs was a key point of the presentations. In the design of financing mechanisms for small and medium enterprise in developing countries, the type of financial assistance can have a significant effect on the impact of the financing on the company, particularly in transition points between sizes of companies. For example, donor funding is most useful to start-up companies that may not be able to afford market loans for growth, whereas commercial or governmental loans/financing schemes are more useful to more established organisations.

The fourth session sought to clarify the realities of energy services for emerging economies through presentations from a number of organisations and companies with experience in emerging market projects, ranging from humanitarian and aid-sector solar lighting organisations to distributed wind generation providers. Two themes were recurrent in the presentations: the necessity of assessing the nuances of the local and regional market in designing products and services for emerging markets, and the huge potential to be found in integrating products and services in a ‘smart’ fashion, most notably through the use of mobile technology. Mobile signal access has developed significantly faster than electricity access in many emerging markets, and with the immense success of the M-PESA and M-KOPA systems, integrating financial transactions into mobile systems has been proven to be a workable business model. The design of clean energy products is also key to their success in supplanting established traditional technologies in emerging markets. This can be as simple as reducing the height of a cookstove so that it can be used more easily, but can have a significant impact on market penetration.

The final session of the day focused on the impact that academic research and evidence can have in supporting the activities of SMEs working in emerging economies. Speakers from SolarAid, Oxford University’s Power and Energy Group and DFID engaged in discussions with the room on how academic research can assist in the design of business models and market research for SMEs, as well as in simulation, social and demographic analysis and other areas. The concept of innovation synergies with academic research was also highlighted, with the academic sector being able to assist in all stages of product and service development, from needs assessment to testing and evaluation of products, to effective deployment strategies and models.

– Daniel Kerr, UCl Energy Institute

How to Evaluate the Impact of Research Projects?

Xavier Lemaire and Daniel Kerr from University College London attended the first annual workshop of the Understanding Sustainable Energy Solutions (USES) Network, held at the Wellcome Trust, London, UK on the 8th July 2014. The workshop was designed to give insights into how best to achieve impact and engagement with beneficiaries in the USES Network projects, which cover a wide variety of aspects of low carbon energy research in developing countries, from institutional networking assistance and business support, to technology dissemination for thermal and electrical energy, to institutional and residential energy efficiency. A number of sessions took place, with an aim to convey insights into how funders and research users engage with academic institutions and organisations conducting research; theories of change and the impacts, both potential and real, that past projects have achieved/failed to achieve; and how best to plan for and assess the impact of the USES projects, and what shared experiences could be brought to bear for the good of all involved projects.

The day began with three presentations on impact, engagement and theories of change. Ed Brown from Loughborough University, in conjunction with Alison Mohr from the University of Nottingham, led off with an introduction to the Participatory Impact Assessment (PIPA) methodology. Adrian Ely from the STEPs Centre at the University of Sussex, and Duncan Green from Oxfam also contributed via video presentations.

Of particular interest was the PIPA methodology for assessing impact, which seeks to identify the inter-linkages in the goals and priorities of all actors in research projects, for example funding agencies, research institutions, local and national governments, community organisations, NGOs and the wider population. Through identifying the synergies in these groups’ priorities and needs, the methodology hopes to provide a clearer insight into the potential impacts of research projects, and the methods needed to achieve them.

The following session saw a number of representatives from the Department for International Development and the Department for Energy and Climate Change, as well as the UKCDS and the Knowledge Transfer Network, conduct a roundtable discussion on the experiences of funding agencies and other organisations in engaging with research and researchers. Broad themes included the importance of quantitative measures of impact and results in the view of the funders and their objectives, as well as highlighting the divergence on timescales for results between public sector projects and research projects.

The whole-room discussions sessions that followed, as well as in the case study presentations, brought forward a number of recurring points. The importance of stakeholder engagement from the very beginning of a project  in achieving impact in research projects, particularly in developing country contexts, was consistently highlighted as a key factor. In-depth knowledge of local country contexts, as well as sectoral expertise in key project members, was identified as a useful factor in achieving project impacts. These factors, along with the targeting of invitations to actors based on their expertise, were also identified to be critical in the creation, funding and initial engagement of projects.

The final session focused on the proposed framework for reporting project impacts to DFID, and how shared experiences within the USES project could help to facilitate greater impacts for all involved projects. Finally, the day concluded with contributions from participants on how the USES network can support the involved projects, predominantly focusing around networking via social media and web networking spaces provided through the USES portal on the LCEDN website.

LCEDN Meeting July 2014Roundtable discussion at LCEDN USES Network Meeting, July 2014

– Xavier Lemaire & Daniel Kerr, UCL Energy Institute