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Published on 14/11/2019

Keys for better inclusion of environmental and societal issues in rural electrification projects

Together with Burgeap, Nodalis and Enea Consulting, GRET participated in the conduct of a study commissioned by Agence française de développement (AFD) on solutions for access to off-grid electricity.

The objective of this study, conducted between 2018 and 2019, was to analyse success factors and obstacles for programmes deploying solar kits and mini-grids in seven countries (Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Kenya, Madagascar, Morocco, Mauritania and Senegal), with regards institutional and regulatory strategies, pricing policies, technical-economic components, and environmental, societal and governance issues. Recommendations were made to AFD and institutional stakeholders. A summary of this study was also presented at an event organised by Alliance Sahel in October 2019, entitled “Access to energy in the G5 Sahel countries ”.

Issues that are not sufficiently taken into consideration

To facilitate analysis of the significant quantity of data and subjects to be covered, GRET proposed a methodology based on an initial formulation of hypotheses generated by the experiences of the  consortium members. These were then validated and/or nuanced during the study. A literature review phase was followed by a phase comprising interviews with key stakeholders. In addition to methodological aspects, GRET worked more specifically on environmental, societal and governance issues.

The observation is that these issues are not sufficiently taken into consideration by stakeholders in the sector, particularly private stakeholders. The carbon footprint, and more broadly the ecological footprint of electrification solutions involving storage are not neutral and can even become significant if they are practised on a large scale. Issues relating to waste management generated by  off-grid electrification solutions are overlooked in the majority of projects and initiatives. Systems to support development in energy demand, particularly for productive uses, are insufficient. Lastly, local authorities remain globally absent in governance of electrification.

Avenues to be explored

This observation necessitates strengthening the capacities of rural electrification stakeholders, in terms of performance of the service and its social and environmental impacts. Here are a sample of avenues of action proposed:

  • To include environmental, societal and governance aspects, support of all stakeholders in the rural electrification ecosystem is necessary. The latter must be included in private operators’ business plans, in donor funding and must not be considered as peripheral, because it enables better sustainability of the electricity service put in place.
  • Environmental regulation must be adapted: optimise the environmental footprint when sizing infrastructures; develop standards prioritising or imposing choice of quality facilities that can be repaired and eco-constructed; improve regulation concerning waste from electric and electronic facilities (D3E); strengthen collection and treatment value chains, and possibly integrate them into a formal treatment circuit.
  • It is necessary to strengthen local governance and appropriation by involving local and traditional authorities and users in decisions, via a capacity strengthening approach.

These recommendations, in particular the last one, seem obvious to GRET teams, who have always strived to involve local stakeholders. However, this “proximity” or “made to measure” approach was considered as a limitation to enable a real change of scale for the generalisation of electricity.

The study conducted for and validated by AFD, demonstrates that social and environmental engineering is one of the keys to ensuring sustainability of rural electrification projects . It is a good thing that AFD is officially picking up these issues. It remains to be seen how these recommendations will be taken into account and applied while universal access to electricity by 2030, targeted by Sustainable Development Goal N° 7 (“Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all”), is still a huge challenge.

Read the study entitled “Les enjeux de l’universalisation de l’électrification – Etat des lieux et recommandations” (in French only).