The InnovateUK Energy Catalyst and working with SVRG partners

Recently, we were invited to give a presentation by our colleagues at the UK Low Carbon Energy for Development Network (UK LCEDN), as part of a webinar they were running on “Transforming Energy Access” for organisations who were interested in applying for the latest Innovate UK Energy Catalyst (round 8) competition, closing in September 2020.

We were delighted to give a short overview of our experience of the Energy Catalyst as an applicant as well as a successful grantee, and in particular our thoughts on finding and working with international partners on Catalyst projects.

Dr Bernie Jones gives the SVRG perspective in the video below.

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What we mean by Community Engagement – the SVRG way of working.

Recently our project partners in Lesotho, the Energy Research Centre at the National University of Lesotho, asked us to contribute to a week-long Masters’ students event on rural energy access. Because of COVID, we were sadly unable to make it in person, but delivered the presentations via Webex instead.

Here is the contribution from Dr Anna Clements about the SVRG approach to ensuring project relevance, impact and sustainability through working hand-in-hand with our rural community partners, and making sure that everything we do is done to meet community needs and priorities, with their involvement and agreement, and under their governance and oversight.

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The SVRG approach – what are we all about?

Recently our project partners in Lesotho, the Energy Research Centre at the National University of Lesotho, asked us to contribute to a week-long Masters’ students event on rural energy access. Because of COVID, we were sadly unable to make it in person, but delivered the presentations via Webex instead.

Here is the contribution from Dr Bernie Jones about the SVRG philosophy and model for integrated, more impactful and sustainable energy access and rural development.

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Minigrid Demand-side Modelling with the Minigrid Game

SVRG is carrying this project out jointly with our partners non-profit Energy Action Partners in Malaysia, and innovative private sector minigrid developer Clear Sky Power in Somaliland. This project is funded by InnovateUK, the UK’s Innovation Agency.

Worldwide, renewable energy minigrids hold great promise for providing electricity to over 1 billion people who are still without energy access. When paired with energy storage systems, solar energy systems are now capable of providing high quality and reliable power 24 hours per day. Yet, the high cost of equipment, particularly energy storage systems, presents a critical barrier to minigrid uptake. To overcome this challenge, we propose an innovative solution to facilitate demand-side management (DSM), which will reduce required system capacity in order to lower costs and accelerate solar minigrid deployment.

Minigrid game in action with a community

Managing the electricity demand of consumers is not a new solution for reducing required storage capacity. DSM has been implemented for many decades in large-scale power systems; for example, through time of use pricing or incentives for energy efficient appliances. However, transferring these approaches to a rural minigrid is challenging for multiple reasons. In the context of rural energy access, effective DSM requires the development of a set of governance rules that are widely accepted by the community – achieving this is no easy task.

Our innovation focuses on a novel software tool called the Minigrid Game, which enables minigrid project developers and community members to co-design a village energy system. This tool is based around a networked, computer-based simulation of a minigrid which supports community learning and consensus-building around issues such as system size, tariffs, productive use, and coordination of loads. A prototype has been implemented in six communities across Southeast Asia with positive results.

Our goal for this project is to explore and demonstrate how the Minigrid Game can be used to facilitate DSM and optimize energy storage, in order to lower the up-front costs of solar minigrids. We plan to enhance our software tool with a more explicit focus on DSM and planning battery storage, and pilot the new version in minigrid planning workshops in 3 rural communities in Somaliland.

Watch our Webinar on the Minigrid Game

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Minigrids and Integrated Anchor Loads in Rural Uganda

SVRG is carrying this project out jointly with our partners in Uganda, social enterprise EcoLife Foods, and community NGO Kiima Foods. This project is funded by InnovateUK, the UK’s Innovation Agency under the Energy Catalyst Round 7 programme.

Worldwide, there are more than 800m people living without any access to electricity. In Uganda, only 10% of the population has access to electricity. In the rural population this number drops to 5%. There is broad acknowledgement that minigrids offer some of the best options for decentralised energy access, since they are more easily scalable and deliver power at levels that can actually drive development outcomes. At the same time, few minigrids have been able to reach commercial sustainability, though having an anchor client (a significant industrial use, for example) has been shown (eg by the Rockefeller Foundation in India) to make minigrids more operationally and commercially viable. But few rural communities have such anchor clients readily available.

Village children in Wakiso District

This project aims to test and validate a novel integrated business model that combines community mini-grids with innovative Farmer’s Enterprise Centres as anchor loads, in order both to optimise the performance, sustainability and affordability or the minigrid, as well as to improve the ability of the local community to pay for the energy services.

Buswagha village – Kasese District

These anchor load Centres comprise a suite of (electricity-catalysed) technologies for improving yields, reducing losses and improving profits; including irrigation pumps, improved data, cold storage, drying and processing technologies. We predict that this anchor client usage of electricity from the minigrid, and the increased economic return to community farmers, will combine to improve the long term commercial viability and sustainability of the minigrids for community energy access. And since almost all rural communities in Uganda and beyond have agriculture as their overwhelming livelihood activity, and therefore would make use of a Farmer’s Enterprise Centre, this innovative combination of a minigrid that comes with its own anchor load should result in faster, more sustainable and commercially viable roll-out of minigrids and energy access across rural communities in Uganda and elsewhere in the developing world

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Innovation Africa-style

One thing that the Smart Villages model is based on is the notion of “appropriate technology” – that is the use of technologies that are specified and optimised based on their context and utility, rather than their absolute efficiency or performance. The classic example is the use of, say, an off-the-shelf lead acid battery instead of the latest Li-Ion model, because the technology is locally understood and easy to replace if it breaks.

But sometimes locally-appropriate means high tech, but not high spec. Assembling the battery bank for our PV installation at the Ormoti borehole site, we didn’t expect our local partner’s technical whiz, Silas Sifaeli, to conjure up a fluid-cooled and -lubricated drilling system for us in 30 seconds flat, an hour’s drive into the bush. But that’s what we got!

Assembling the 30kWh 48v battery bank involved linking 12 200Ah DEKA batteries together, in 3 parallel sets of 4. To avoid too many crimped cable connections, we were linking the sets of 4 series batteries together using 2mm metal joining plates instead of cables. But, inevitably, the holes in the plates were 6mm, and the bolts for the battery terminals were 8mm.

Water bottle – free; hole in the cap – free; drilling improvement – priceless

No problem, we had our cordless drill and some newish 8mm drill bits. But it turns out, the steel that the joining plates were made of was HARD! Silas watched us get no-where for a few minutes, and then took pity on us. 30 seconds with a used water bottle and a small screwdriver to make a hole in the middle of the cap, and we had a bespoke cooling device, which made the job as easy as drilling through butter.

After adding this, we had a fair assembly line running!

I’d like to say that we’d have come up with the same idea, doing the job up in Europe, but I know that’s pretty unlikely. Sometimes I think having all the high-end equipment easily available from a shop prevents you really thinking about what you need, and finding a simple, cheap solution. Silas did that for us without skipping a beat, or needing to spend a single shilling! Now we just need him to teach us all his other tricks too…

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Removing Waste Plastic from the Nairobi-Athi River System in Kenya

SVRG is carrying this project out jointly with our partners Chemolex in Kenya. This project is jointly funded by the Coca Cola Foundation and UCSB’s Benioff Ocean Initiative, as part of the Clean Currents Coalition.


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Unbalanced 3-phase power nearly killed the radio

So let’s start by stepping back a little. Our innovative partners, OMASI, have set up a number of different productive, social and community projects on their main site in the village of Terat in the Simanjiro District of Tanzania. There’s a shop, a community meeting hall, and a hostel (originally set up as somewhere for abused women in the Maasai community to stay with their children, but now the go-to place for academic researchers, NGO workers, visiting doctors or adventure tourists to stay in the area). There’s a dairy, which buys milk off Maasai women and turns it into value added products like cheese, yoghurt and ghee. But the dairy uses so much power that when it runs (when there’s lots of milk available) it runs off a separate power system. And there’s a community radio station, ORS FM, the only station broadcasting to the whole region in Maa – the Maasai language. For many Maasai who don’t understand Kiswahili or Maasai, it’s their only source of information.

Since we started work on this project in earnest, we had a little side interest in trying to make the electricity provision to these various projects on the site more sustainable than the large, old and expensive generators they were running off. One of the main issues we couldn’t understand was why the generators were so expensive to run. They seemed to be using twice the amount of diesel that they should be. They were old, they were oversized, but still – 8 litres and hour instead of 4 is a lot!

Over Christmas, we came up with some ideas for replacement systems, that should be cheaper to run. And we could still use the old generators as (expensive) backup, just in case. On our next visit, after New Year, we were sad to hear that the radio station had been forced to go off the air, as the diesel had become unaffordable. So as soon as we had an idle moment, we decided to take a look at how the existing gensets could be wired up as back-ups, to facilitate the new approach. The most critical load is the radio station – you don’t want that to ever go off the air. “Do you happen to know how it’s wired?” we asked. “Oh yes – we think it’s on the red phase.”

All of it! The whole station – transmitter, a/c, studios…

If you don’t know about three-phase power (and trust us, we learned a LOT more about it over the next few days) the super simple breakdown is this. If a 3-phase generator is putting out 36kw, that’s equivalent to 12kw per phase. Ideally, you want the loads across the phases to be balanced. On a national electricity grid, you get that by connecting different households to different phases, so over 1000s of households they balance out, even if they’re all using their kettles at different times. (Sorry, we did say this was simplified).

If the load (the equipment that’s connected) is very different across the three phases, it’s said to be “unbalanced”. That’s not too good for the equipment, but it also means you’re making more electricity than you’re using. Intrigued, we bought a jerry can of diesel and asked our partners to fire up the genset and the radio station. And then we got busy with our multimeter.

Here’s what we found (we were measuring the current in each phase circuit)

Yup, that’s right. Virtually everything was on a single phase. Presumably when it was first wired up, everything balanced out. But over the years, other loads had been disconnected, so now the system was massively unbalanced. The radio station was using a maximum of 10kw, but because it was all on one phase, the generator was having to run at up to 30kw, even though the other 20kw weren’t being used. No wonder it was guzzling fuel.

So the lessons we drew from that were 1) we shouldn’t be so quick to think that old equipment is just naturally performing suboptimally, and 2) if you have a 3-phase offgrid system, check it to make sure it’s running as balanced as possible!

Follow the next installment of this story here:

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Meetings with Remarkable Trees…

We were delighted to find that one of the many amazing things about working in the Maasai Plains of Simanjiro District, south of Arusha, is the indigenous baobab trees.

A baobab tree by the roadside, south of Arusha

The baobab, Adansonia digitata, is native to Africa, and classes as one of the biggest trees in the world. Whilst they “only” reach 25-30m in height, the trunks can reach diameters of up to 15m. That’s big! That means an average sized house could fit completely inside the trunk.

A larger relative – baobabs regrow from their roots if they fall – think that’s happened here…

They use those tremendous trunks to store water in, to survive the dry season. Baobabs can store more than 120 tonnes of water in their trunks, depending on their size! They also produce highly nutitious food, which dries on the branch, and therefore can be stored for up to three year without spoiling.

A baobab tree between Kiruru and Oiborkishu, in Simanjiro, at the end of the dry season

But some of the larger baobabs across Africa have been dying in the past 10 years. No-one is quite sure why – there is no obvious disease reason. Researchers think the most likely cause is climate change, with increases in temperature and changes in rainfall pattern. If you’re having to carry 120 tonnes of water in your truck, we can imagine that significant changes in temperature and humidity might cause a degree of structural failure. But we’re happy to see that there are still of more modestly-sized specimens around the communities where we are going to be working.

We love baobabs! Who wouldn’t?

In Africa, there are all sort of stories about baobab trees. Sometimes they are known as the “upside down tree”. Here’s one story about why that is…

Long long ago, the gods made the world. They made the sea and the land, and the mountains and the rivers. They made the plants and the animals. One day, feeling lonely, they made a talking tree. And they called it Baobab.

The tree delighted them. They watered it with the rains, they sent the sun to warm it. And the tree talked and talked and talked and talked.

But it didn’t talk about the warm sun or the gentle rain. Oh no! Instead the Baobab tree complained and moaned all day long. It always found something to be unhappy about. If it was hot weather, the Baobab tree wasn’t happy; when the cool breezes came, the Baobab tree grumbled; if it was wet, it was too wet; if it was dry, it was too dry. The Baobab tree always found something to complain about.

And the gods could not finish their work of making the world without interruption. When they grew a forest of tall trees around the Baobab, it whined and wanted to be taller too. When they made the jacaranda and tulip trees with beautiful blue and orange flowers, it shouted about being so plain and green.

“Why did we ever make that tree?” The gods were furious. “If you don’t stop complaining, you’ll regret it,” they warned the Baobab. And then they made the mango tree and the jackfruit…

“I want soft juicy fruit,” yelled the Baobab. “Are you listening? I want fruit like that too.”

“STOP. We cannot stand it any longer,” cried the gods. “Stop talking.” And they grabbed the Baobab tree, and pulled it out of the ground. They turned it upside down, and stuffed the tree back into the earth, head first. The Baobab’s mouth was so full of soil, it could not say a word. So for the first time since it had been created, it was silent.

And nobody has ever heard the Baobab make a sound ever since.

Southern African legend

Other stories tell of how the tree kept walking around, until the Gods turned it upside down (West Africa), or how the God Thora threw the tree away, over the wall of paradise, and it landed upside down on the world below (San tribe). Some people say that if you pick a Baobab flower you will be eaten by a lion, but drinking water in which Baobab seeds have soaked will keep you safe from attack by crocodiles. It’s such an amazing looking tree, it isn’t surprising there are so many stories and legends relating to it. We’re just pleased to be making its acquaintance!

Ancient and modern – this Baobab started growing long before electricity was discovered!

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Low-cost Efficient Rural Cold Storage in Uganda

SVRG is carrying this project out jointly with our partner in Uganda, social enterprise EcoLife Foods, based in Matugga, north of Kampala. This project is funded by the Efficiency for Access Coalition.

Our partners in Uganda, Ecolife Foods, have developed an innovative low-cost local-technology driven cold storage solution, and were finalists in the CLASP/Global LEAP Off-Grid Cold Chain Challenge 2018. We are interested in working together to develop and test improvements to the cooling technology, the locally-sourced insulation and construction techniques, pre-cooling phase, and in order to improve productivity gains of local users, innovative uses of the waste heat generated by the hub (eg for drying produce and to provide hot water) and of the excess solar PV generated.

EcoLife’s mk1 cold store
  1. In particular, we will examine how the current PET bottle wall insulation material EcoLife uses can be improved upon, by testing the manufacturing feasibility and thermal performance of insulation material from locally-available wastes (rPET, paper, card, agricultural residues and agricultural products such as coir and banana fibre). We will use a hammer mill to produce the insulation, and use appropriate additives to prevent insect attack, to fireproof the insulation and as binders if necessary.
  2. We will test the thermal performance and cost of stabilised earth blocks as an alternative to concrete/clay bricks.
  3. We will research how internal partitioning can be used within the cold storage facility to produce zones of different temperatures, for optimally preserving different products.
  4. We will research the design of a passive pre-cooling chamber that will reduce the energy and thermal demand on the cold store itself.
  5. And we will research optimum productive uses of the waste heat of the system (hot water, crop drying for value addition) and of the excess PV.
  6. Finally, we will assemble the optimum recommendations of each stage into a test system, and gather user feedback and impact data.

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Solar Boma Systems should be a thing

For the Maasai, the traditional living unit is the boma. This is an extended, or multi-family compound surrounded by a thorn hedge (usually), which will contain between 3 and 10 houses. There is an inner circular compound, also surrounded by a thorn hedge, to keep the livestock safe during the night. Satellite photos of the Maasai plains of Tanzania are sprinkled with these distinctive circular structures.

Yesterday, in a conversation with our partners OMASI about rural grid electrification, they mentioned with sadness that – however much benefit this would bring to the community of towns or large villages like Terrat, where we are based – the majority of the population who live in the bomas miles away from the main villages would never be able to realise the benefits of the grid, since it would be infeasible to connect them all up.

This got us thinking. On the one hand, we’re familiar with solar home systems as a good way to electrify a single household. And on the other hand, a minigrid is a good way to electrify an off-grid community. Why not develop something halfway between the two for these Maasai boma “micro communities” – combining the low cost and simplicity of solar-home-systems, with the greater power, flexibility and productive use possibilities of a microgrid?

And the solar boma system was born. During the project, as an additional side-initiative, we’ll design and test a couple of different size systems, for bomas of 3 up to 10 households in size. We’ll let you know how it goes, and – of course – whether we get to use a ring-main! (sorry)

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Integrated Community Energy in Northern Tanzania

SVRG is carrying this project out jointly with our NGO partners in Tanzania, Orkonerei Maasai Social Initiatives (OMASI). This project is funded by InnovateUK, the UK’s Innovation Agency.

Minigrids are widely advocated as the most appropriate solution for solving universal energy access in the developing world. However, few minigrids achieve sustainable long-term operations without subsidy. Our partnership is trialling an innovative approach to minigrid design and installation in marginalised Maasai communities in Northern Tanzania.

Village meeting in Simanjiro Disrict

Using our “Smart Village” electrification and development approach, our partners and we work with communities to determine their needs and ability to pay, and design an integrated technology approach that combines a clean energy minigrid with a suite of appropriate and relevant technologies for productive uses, agricultural productivity and value addition, and community services such as healthcare, education and clean water, in order to promote sustainable long-term community development, which also has the effect of increasing demand for power from the minigrid and improving the community’s ability to pay.

Ormoti Borehole site at night

We are testing this approach in four offgrid Maasai communities, to try to demonstrate a sustainable business model that can be applied more widely in the region, and are also following a rigorous monitoring and impact analysis process to collect the evidence necessary to prove the benefits of this approach.

Latest project update posts

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Webinar: Resilience and reliability of energy projects in Nepal

The successful provision of energy services depends on the creation of resilient and reliable energy projects. Their resilience depends on the whole system’s ability to handle shocks and stresses, such as natural hazards and the effects of climate change. Meanwhile, the reliability of schemes depends on the on-going relationship between communities and technology. This can, in turn, contribute to broader community resilience. This webinar explores these interlinkages in the context of Nepal.

The webinar was jointly organised between Smart Villages, the UK Low Carbon Energy for Development Network, and the Hydro Empowerment Network – HPNET.

“Resilience is distributed, not centralized. The closer to the lowest common denominator resources, capacity and training can be located, the more resilient a community is”  — Prof Ed Brown, University of Loughborough

This webinar focused on academic research and policy level interventions that are aimed at developing resilient and reliable energy projects. Dr Long Seng To will describe new research focused on improving community energy resilience. Dr To recently led a workshop in Kathmandu, Nepal which sought to understand opportunities enhance community energy resilience in grid, mini-grid and stand-alone electricity systems. Joe Butchers will present results from a study investigating the reliability of 24 micro-hydropower plants in Nepal. Findings showed that the reliability of community energy projects are variable, transient and depend on the interconnection of social, technical and economic factors. Jiwan Kumar Malik will outline the progress and planned future work of RERL in improving the reliability and resilience of new and existing community energy projects in Nepal.

Dr Long Seng To: RAEng Engineering for Development Research Fellow at Loughborough University, UK
Joe Butchers: PhD researcher at the University of Bristol, UK
Jiwan Kumar Malik: Solar Power Expert at the Renewable Energy for Rural Livelihood (RERL), Kathmandu, Nepal

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Webinar: Minigrid Impact and Long-Term Sustainability of Energy Access


The number of Decentralized Renewable Energy (DRE) systems, particularly for rural electrification, is growing globally and estimate suggest that 45% of the new connections needed to achieve universal electrification by 2030 will come from mini-girds. However to date a widely accepted and comprehensive methodology to assess the impact and long term sustainability of these solutions is still lacking.

In this webinar, we examined the importance of integrating M&E strategies as integral part of energy access initiatives, taking a practitioner, researcher and policy marker’s perspective. Ms Arianna Tozzi, researcher at Gram Oorja presented and discussed an analytical framework that was recently proposed to evaluate impact of DRE systems and identify the conditions in which interventions can be effectively replicated and scaled. Dr Aparna Katre of the University of Minnesota presented empirical results from 24 community-owned Solar Micro Grids implemented in India, providing insights on the sustainability of the analysed grids and challenges ahead. And Jeff Felten of the SE4ALL Africa Hub at the African Development Bank put this into a more global perspective, as well as presenting the M&E framework used by the African Development Bank with the minigrid projects it supports.

This webinar is particularly relevant to stakeholders, practitioners and policy makers around the world as it presents innovative approaches to monitor the progresses of energy access interventions, helping stakeholders at all levels to identify solutions that are impactful, sustainable and hence worth replicating on a larger scale.

Presenting Experts
– Ms Arianna Tozzi: Assessing the Sustainability of Decentralized Renewable Energy Systems: A Comprehensive Framework with Analytical Methods
– Dr Aparna Katre: Sustainability of Community-Owned Mini-Grids: Evidence from India.
– Mr Jeff Felten: Overview – AfDB/SE4ALL Hub M&E approach for minigrids

A paper of Dr Katre and Ms Tozzi’s work is published in the journal “Sustainability”, available by clicking here.

LCEDN, one of the organisers of this webinar series, has also published a briefing paper on local governance of minigrids, available here.[:]

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Webinars: “Transforming Energy Access”, the 7th Annual LCEDN Conference 2018

[:en]The 7th LCEDN Annual Conference on the theme of ‘Transforming Energy Access?’ took place from 30 May – 1 June 2018. This year, in addition to attendance in person, LCEDN in partnership with Smart Villages allowed remote participation in many of the conference session via webinar, for those who were unable to join us in person in Loughborough. Presentations and recordings of the sessions will be uploaded shortly.

The programme can be downloaded from the LCEDN website by clicking here.

LCEDN and Smart Villages webinar/broadcast the following sessions.

Wednesday 30th May
Opening Plenary: Transforming Energy Access + 2 minute PhD poster pitches (0900-1030)

          Jiska DeGroot (Energy Research Centre, University of Cape Town)
          Steven Hunt (Senior Energy & Innovation Advisor,​ Department for International Development)
          Indira Shakya (Independent Consultant, Nepal)
          Ed Brown (Loughborough University, LCEDN)


Energy Catalyst: Companies Showcase (1400-1530)

          Alice Goodbrook (Innovate UK) (presentation not featured in the session video)
          Craig Jamieson (Rice Straw)
          Xiongwei Liu (Entrust MicroGrid LLP)
          Trevor Hardcastle (Frontier Technical Ltd))
          Colin Mallet (Trusted Renewables)
          Others to be confirmed


Hybrid Innovative Business & Community Projects from the Global South (1600-1730)

          Dipti Vaghela (Hydro Empowerment Network, Myanmar)
          Tarek Ketelsen (Australian Water Partnership, Vietnam)
          Gerhard Fisher (​PT Entec Indonesia​ and ASEAN Hydropower Competance Centre (HYCOM))
          Anshuman Lath (Gramoorja, India)
          Charity Wanjiku (Strauss Energy Ltd, Kenya)


Thursday 31st May

Innovation & Technology Development + 2 minute PhD poster pitches (0900-1030)

          Peter Robbins (Open University)
          Lucy Shaw and Gabriel Davies (CrossBoundary – via skype – to be confirmed)
          Jonathan Radcliffe (Birmingham University)
          Satheesh Krishnamurthy (Open University)


Friday 1st June
“Under the Grid”, co-sponsored by EEG + 2 minute PhD poster potches (0900-1030)

          Marcela Tarazona (Oxford Policy Management)
          Simon Trace (Oxford Policy Management)
          Shonali Pachauri (​International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Austria)
          Mini Govindan (The Energy and Resources Institute, India)


Clean Cooking Showcase (1400-1530)

          Charlotte Ray (independent consultant)
          Timothy Whitehead (Aston University)
          Jon Leary (Loughborough University and GAMOS)
          Ashutosh Sharma (IRADe)


The LCEDN conference networks colleagues from across the world with interest in low carbon transitions and in addressing energy access challenges (be they providing electricity or modern cooking services). The event is expressly inter-disciplinary bringing together researchers with backgrounds in science, engineering, economics and business and the full gamut of social sciences. It also brings together the academic community with those working in other sectors. Sessions focus on the private sector (both large and small scale), different approaches towards innovation in different sectors, grassroots mobilization and community engagement, and interactions with policymakers and other key stakeholders.

This year our conference was delivered alongside the team coordinating DFID’s Transforming Energy Access initiative (the Carbon Trust, Energy4Impact, University of Cape Town and The Energy and Resources Institute in India). We addressed what it will take to fundamentally transform energy access in new directions. The issues to be explored included, but were in no way limited to:

– The Social/Equity impacts of current and intended energy access programmes (including gender, age, disability etc.)
– Innovative forms of access to finance and alternative delivery mechanisms
– Different approaches to innovation
– New approaches in clean cooking
– Confronting waste in low carbon transitions
– More than entrepreneurialism: energy and local development planning
– Local energy governance


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Webinar: The Minigrid Game

Minigrids. They’re one of the most attractive models for remote community electrification. They’re scalable, and flexible, and capable of supplying power at levels that really permit productive use to be made of the power. But at the same time, they raise alot of questions – what is the most appropriate structure, size, payment system etc for a particular local community. Getting these things wrong has led to systems failing, or not having the development impact they were intended to have.

To try to address some of these issues, Energy Action Partners have devised their Minigrid Game. This is a collaborative role-playing game built around a representation of a minigrid system, intended to be used as an educational and collaborative planning tool in designing a community-sized minigrid system. The game is designed to be used within a process that explores minigrid planning and operational decisions.

The Minigrid Game is a completely novel way for communities to develop workable solutions to the unique challenges of managing a community minigrid, such as system sizing, tariff-setting, and demand-side management. By playing as a group, the players can also improve their understanding of energy technology, practice negotiation and consensus-building skills, and most importantly, have fun.

Participants joined us on Tuesday 15th May 2018 to hear more about the game and its applications from Scott Kennedy, Executive Director and Ayu Abdullah, Southeast Asia Director of Enact Partners, and also for an opportunity to play the game live during the webinar! The game is designed to run in a controlled environment (in a village community centre, for example) so we saw some of the challenges that playing the game over the internet brings, on connections that were not 100% reliable. But participants were still able to get a real sense of the power and flexibility of this simulation for optimising system design, and making users aware of the consequences of their individual energy usage and payment behaviours.

Click here for the presentation introducing the Game and discussing case studies, by Ayu Abdullah.

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Webinar: Energy, Energy Access and Transport



Transport is an often overlooked aspect of rural development and linkage to energy access and productive use of energy in the developing world, but it is of critical importance. Not only does transportation rely on a source of energy (and hence transport can itself become a productive use of energy), but an effective transport infrastructure is a critical part of allowing mobility, access to markets, establishment of distribution chains (both to access energy generating equipment as well as marketing services, goods and products).

In this webinar, we were joined by experts presenting on diverse aspects of this complex challenge, including Prof Gina Porter and Dr Arash Azizi of the University of Durham, Dipak Gyawali, former Minister of Water Resources in Nepal and Chair of the Nepal Water Conservation Foundation, and Dr Ben Campbell from the UK Low Carbon Energy Development Network. As usual, we provided an opportunity for the participants joining the webinar to put questions to the speakers, for them to be answered during the session.

The webinar heard presentations from:

Prof Gina Porter, Department of Anthropology, University of Durham

Dipak Gyawali, Chair, Nepal Water Conservation Foundation

Dr Arash Azizi, Department of Engineering, University of Durham

Dr Ben Campbell, LCEDN and University of Durham[:]

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Webinar: PAUWES Research 2 Practice Forum 2018

Linking research and development as a contribution to achieve the goals of the Agenda 2063 of the African Union is a priority for the Pan African University of the African Union. The Research-2-Practice Forum aims to provide a platform for experts/scientists, education leaders, decision makers, entrepreneurs, private and public sector, policy makers, civil society actors and institutions interested or active in applied and practice-oriented research for development to discuss state of the art, challenges and innovative solutions in the areas of renewable energy, water and climate security and build strategic partnerships.

For those not able to attend the Forum this April 2018 in Algeria, Smart Villages and the UK LCEDN arranged a live link-up with special session on Wednesday April 18th, where participants were able to hear more about PAUWES, the Research 2 Practice conference themes and discussions, hear from some of the pan-African organisations supporting the conference and hear some of the latest research ideas and entrepreneurial projects being presented.

Please join us for this exciting event. As usual, we provided an opportunity for the international community joining the webinar to put questions to the speakers in Algeria, for them to be answered during the session.


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Webinar: Energy Access, Education and Young People


One of the most powerful benefits of energy access in rural communities in the developing world is the potential impact on education. Whether a simple solar lantern permits an extra hour of homework and study after dark, or whether a more sophisticated community energy and ICT project permits remote education and training to take place. And one of the most important, but often under-represented, groups of community stakeholders are young people.

This LCEDN/Smart Villages webinar aims to create a wide-ranging discussion on these issues, with experts presenting their experiences and work on diverse aspects of the energy/youth/education equation.

Our presenters this month include Dr Jiska de Groot and the team at the Energy Research Centre at the University of Cape Town, Craig Gibbs from JET Education Services in South Africa, Prof Jo Tacchi and Dr Amalia Sabiescu from Loughborough University, and Rachita Misra and Huda Jaffer from the SELCO Foundation.

In addition to presentations on their experiences, the webinar included an opportunity for Q&A with all webinar participants.

Click below to access speakers presentations.


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Webinar: Crowd Power – Crowdfunding Energy Access Ventures


If you are a start-up or a smaller energy access firm looking to raise funds, then energy-targeted crowdfunding may just be for you.

Raising the necessary finance for start-up and scale-up energy access ventures on terms that make commercial sense is one of the biggest challenges in the sector. In the search for appropriate finance, innovative energy access projects are increasingly turning to crowdfunding to address their financing need.

Energy4Impact has spent the last 3 years looking into the challenges and opportunities in crowdfunding energy access. In this webinar, they will share some of their findings and recommendations, covering donation, reward, debt and equity crowdfunding. Energy4Impact will be joined by crowdfunding platform partner Lendahand, as well as crowdfunded entrepreneurs Sosai Renewable Energies of Nigeria to present their experiences.

This month, our presenters/discussants will be Energy4Impact’s Davinia Cogan, who has been managing their crowdfunding research programme, Koen The, CEO of Lendahand Ethex and Habiba Ali, Managing Director of Sosai RE. In addition to presentations on their experiences, the webinar will include a panel discussion on the various challenges and opportunities of crowdfunding energy access between the presenters, as well as – of course – an opportunity for Q&A with all webinar participants.

Join us for this webinar, with the following speakers. Click below to access their presentations.


Background information (pdf reports) for the webinar from Energy 4 Impact:

Crowd Power – Mapping the Market for Energy Access (1.3mb)

Crowd Power – Can the Crowd Close the Financing Gap (4.7mb)

Crowd Power – Success & Failure, The Key to a Winning Campaign (5.1mb)


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