Discussion Paper

No. 2018-15 | February 13, 2018
Improving quality of life through sustainable energy and urban infrastructure in Africa
(Submitted as Global Solutions Paper)


Focusing on critical aspects of infrastructure, such as energy, this paper argues that African countries, and African cities in particular, need infrastructure that advances both basic needs and industrialization, and avoids a lock-in of unsustainable, high-carbon technologies. G20 countries can promote and support quality of life in African countries by: (1) aligning and cementing the G20 Agenda for Africa with African initiatives, SDGs and the Paris Agreement, (2) mitigating economic risks of climate change through supporting low carbon development pathways in Africa, (3) creating and enabling a level playing field for low carbon technologies, which includes integrated strategies for de-risking renewable energy investments, and (4) supporting smart and sustainable urban planning.

JEL Classification:

Q01, Q54, H23, R11


  • Downloads: 147


Cite As

Shingirirai S. Mutanga, Rainer Quitzow, and Jan Christoph Steckel (2018). Improving quality of life through sustainable energy and urban infrastructure in Africa. Economics Discussion Papers, No 2018-15, Kiel Institute for the World Economy. http://www.economics-ejournal.org/economics/discussionpapers/2018-15

Comments and Questions

Gregor Schwerhoff, Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change, Berlin, Germany - Review
February 26, 2018 - 18:42

see attached file

Sebastian Renner, GIGA, Hamburg, Germany - comment
March 12, 2018 - 08:56

see attached file

Jörg Peters - Charcoal, reliability and the-absence-of-impacts of rural electrification
March 20, 2018 - 08:10

This is an interesting paper that carves out some very valid and reasonable recommendations on a high policy level. My most fundamental comment is that the focus on sustainable energy (including rural areas) and urbanization is maybe a bit confusing, since these two areas are obviously related but solutions to ...[more]

... the eminent problems are completely different. Infrastructure in urban areas is much cheaper and in many regards already provided, though oftentimes of bad quality. In rural areas, in contrast, even concepts (let alone solutions) for universal infrastructure/energy access are still lacking. In addition, usage patterns are completely different as well – conditional on available infrastructure. I would therefore either concentrate the paper on one of the two aspects or structure the paper more explicitly along this demarcation.

Some more specific comments (obviously focused on my main area of expertise, i.e. energy):

The paper does mention the role of charcoal, which I believe is one of the most important challenges induced by urbanization. Charcoal is much more green wood intensive than firewood and hence moving to cities and switching from firewood to charcoal increases pressures on forests. I would emphasize this a bit more. Even if more specific projections do not exist at this point, some of these studies below on urban fuel use might help.

Ahrends, A., Burgess, N. D., Milledge, S. A., Bulling, M. T., Fisher, B., Smart, J. C., … & Lewis, S. L. (2010). Predictable waves of sequential forest degradation and biodiversity loss spreading from an African city. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(33), 14556-14561.
Bensch, G. and J. Peters (2013), Alleviating Deforestation Pressures? Impacts of Improved Stove Dissemination on Charcoal Consumption in Urban Senegal. Land Economics 89 (4): 676-698.
Bensch, G., M. Grimm and J. Peters (2015), Why Do Households Forego High Returns from Technology Adoption? Evidence from Improved Cooking Stoves in Burkina Faso. Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization 116 : 187-205. DOI: 10.1016/j.jebo.2015.04.023

It is true that improved cookstoves are getting relatively little attention – given the magnitude of the problem. Maybe underpin this by referring to some high-level publications, e.g. the WHO “Burning Opportunity” report or Martin et al. 2011. Also be more specific, for example by comparing cookstoves to electricity (which absorbs big chunks of public money, cookstoves don’t). Especially African policy makers view cookstoves (and off-grid solar for that matter) not as “real” energy access and only concentrate on grid-infrastructure.

Martin, W. J., Glass, R. I., Balbus, J. M., & Collins, F. S. (2011). A major environmental cause of death. Science, 334(6053), 180-181.

In terms of electricity in urban areas, the most pressing topic is reliability. Not much (causal) evidence exists on Africa, but these references might help to strengthen this point:

Oseni, M. O., & Pollitt, M. G. (2015). A firm-level analysis of outage loss differentials and self-generation: Evidence from African business enterprises. Energy Economics, 52, 277-286.
Scott, A., Darko, E., Lemma, A., & Rud, J. P. (2014). How does electricity insecurity affect businesses in low and middle income countries? Overseas Development Institute, London.

Two studies in Asia exist that aim at identifying causal effects:
Allcott, H., Collard-Wexler, A., & O'Connell, S. D. (2016). How do electricity shortages affect industry? Evidence from India. American Economic Review, 106(3), 587-624.

Fisher-Vanden, K., Mansur, E. T., & Wang, Q. J. (2015). Electricity shortages and firm productivity: evidence from China's industrial firms. Journal of Development Economics, 114, 172-188.

Electricity access in rural areas is frequently mentioned as being a key to increasing the poor’s resilience to a changing climate. Evidence is emerging that this is not necessarily the case and there might in fact be more cost-effective climate change adaptation strategies. It is certainly too early to write off electricity as one adaptation component completely, but since conventional wisdom is still that electricity access does lead to economic development, reference to those recent studies could help to underline that at least more research is needed:

Chaplin, Duncan, Arif Mamun, Ali Protik, John Schurrer, Divya Vohra, Kristine Bos, Hannah Burak, Laura Meyer, Anca Dumitrescu, Christopher Ksoll, Thomas Cook (2017). Grid Electricity Expansion in Tanzania by MCC: Findings from a Rigorous Impact Evaluation, Final Report. Washington, DC: Mathematica. Available at: https://www.mathematica-mpr.com/our-publications-and-findings/publications/grid-electricity-expansion-in-tanzania-by-mcc-findings-from-a-rigorous-impact-evaluation.
Lee, K., Miguel, E., & Wolfram, C. (2018). Experimental evidence on the economics of rural electrification. Mimeo. http://www.catherine-wolfram.com/uploads/8/2/2/7/82274768/repp-jpe_2018-01-31-final.pdf
Lenz et al. (2017). Does Large-Scale Infrastructure Investment Alleviate Poverty? Impacts of Rwanda’s Electricity Access Roll-Out Program. World Development 89 (1): 88-110.

Related to this, the section “A forward looking approach to energy…” could make a reference to electrification planning tools that help identifying the right on-grid-off-grid mix. For example
Kemausuor, F., Adkins, E., Adu-Poku, I., Brew-Hammond, A., & Modi, V. (2014). Electrification planning using Network Planner tool: The case of Ghana. Energy for Sustainable Development, 19, 92-101.
Mentis, D., Howells, M., Rogner, H., Korkovelos, A., Arderne, C., Zepeda, E., ... & Tanvez, Y. (2017). Lighting the World: the first application of an open source, spatial electrification tool (OnSSET) on Sub-Saharan Africa. Environmental Research Letters, 12(8), 085003.

Section “Getting incentives right”: Indonesia abandoned kerosene and fuel subsidies a few years ago and directly channeled the money into rural development in order to obtain political support for the regime change. Could be a good additional example.
Same section: note that your claim for clean cookstoves elsewhere in the paper would probably imply LPG subsidies. This is a potential contradiction to your first paragraph in this section. Or specify.

Minor comments:
- The (sub)section numbering is a bit confusing
- The death toll induced by solid fuel use is much higher than 0.4 million. According to WHO it’s 4.3 million. See the WHO “Burning Opportunity” report for example.
- What is “continental Africa”?