water reservoir on a hydroelectric power plant in the Upper Marsyangdi valley, Nepal

South Asia workshop to increase community energy resilience held in Kathmandu

In February, a South Asia workshop was held in Kathmandu in Nepal as part of the Collaborations for Community Energy Resilience in Low-Income Countries project, a partnership between EEG and the Low Carbon Energy for Development Network (LCEDN)*. Using a whole systems energy research approach, the project brings together social science perspectives on governance, economic modelling, and disaster risk management, and technical expertise on designing resilient infrastructure.

While energy is key to economic growth, after natural disasters, governments don’t always prioritise the re-establishment of energy access, and, until recently, researchers haven’t addressed community energy resilience in the design and development of sustainable energy systems. Research on energy access in low-income countries has also tended to be divided between on-grid, mini-grid, and stand-alone solutions, yet communities often utilise different combinations of these systems in a strategic way.

EEG and LCEDN are working together to catalyse new research collaborations, open up dialogue, facilitate knowledge exchange, and establish a working relationship between academics, policy makers, energy practitioners, and donors in the UK, South Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa. This is being achieved through three workshops; the first was held in Oxford in the UK in November 2018, the second in Kathmandu in Nepal in February 2019, and the third will take place in Malawi in April 2019.

The main objective of the recent South Asia workshop was to identify research needs and collaboration opportunities to increase community energy resilience in on-grid, mini-grid, and stand-alone electricity systems. Stakeholders from the region involved in disaster risk reduction and energy access, including policy makers and practitioners, were invited to participate, with representatives from Nepal, Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka attending.

Country experiences were shared, with a particular focus on learnings from the Nepal earthquake of 2015. Participants analysed critical energy services, vulnerabilities in the electricity system, and how energy fits into the wider understanding of resilience.

Research needs were split into two groups; short term disaster response & recovery and disaster prevention & preparation, with participants identifying specific research questions for both. Discussions focused on the opportunities for on-grid, mini-grid, and stand-alone systems and how they might interact, and the role of community groups, the private sector, and government.

The questions that emerged were based around the role of quality control guidelines in enhancing reliability (and therefore resilience), the integration of mini-grids into national grids (and how that might offer opportunities or challenges for energy resilience), the cost and benefits of renewable energy systems that include back-up (which might cost more, but might be more resilient), and the actions required across operational, regional, and national planning to improve resilience.

Other topics covered included the role of energy efficiency in resilience, and the critical role community organisations play in rebuilding infrastructure. This led to a discussion on how to include energy in reconstruction plans more effectively. Participants also felt it was essential to look at exposure to risks, including energy security.

Long Seng To, the Principal Investigator for the project, said: “The Nepal workshop discussions were fascinating, and I learned a lot. The session brought together experts from both disaster risk reduction and energy access across five countries in South Asia. Participants discussed research needs, including those around the role of energy in disaster and recovery situations and whether on-grid, mini-grid, and stand-alone systems offer different solutions. We identified a list of the most impactful research questions, which will be prioritised by participants and will feed into current research projects and those being developed.

“I’m looking forward to the Sub-Saharan Africa workshop, taking place in Malawi, which will help to develop the research questions further. I’d encourage stakeholders to get in touch and participate.”

Long Seng To recently provided an overview of the South Asia workshop in a webinar on Resilience & Reliability of Energy Projects in Nepal, jointly organised between LCEDN, Smart Villages, and the Hydro Empowerment Network. Available here, the webinar focuses on academic research and policy level interventions aimed at developing resilient and reliable energy projects in the context of Nepal.

The Collaborations for Community Energy Resilience in Low-Income Countries project is supported by the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) Whole Systems Networking Fund. For further information on the project or the forthcoming Sub-Saharan Africa workshop, please contact Long Seng To at l.to@lboro.ac.uk. An EEG Energy Insight paper on developing a research agenda for community energy resilience in the electricity sector can be found here.

*LCEDN is a network of UK researchers focused on renewable energy and international development and is involved in delivering capacity building activities for DFID’s Transforming Energy Access (TEA) programme, which focuses on enabling energy access via stand-alone and mini-grid systems.