LCEDN 2012: Communities key to low carbon development

By Tierney Smith 

A worker makes biomass bricquettes in Vietnam. Including communities in the low carbon transition can amplify the benefits according to the LCEDN. (Source: UN/Ba Trang)

Communities in the developing world must be at the heart of low-carbon development in their countries, according to leading researchers.

Speaking at the Low Carbon Energy for Development Network’s (LCEDN) first conference, at Loughborough University, scientists, engineers and researchers from across the sectors of low-carbon energy and development aim to find out where projects have gone wrong in the past.

The key agreement from the first day of the conference was that local knowledge and experience will be key to moving forward in implementing low carbon energy in poor countries and communities.

Ed Brown, Associate Director at the Sustainable Research School at Loughborough University and National Co-Coordinator of the LCEDN said: “In some cases there has been a kind of technological determinism where new technologies are created and exported.”

He uses the example of cookstoves, where he believes some good work has been done, but that there are still parts of Africa and Latin America that are littered with solar cookers and other projects which were not suited to people’s needs.

He said it was important moving forward to assess past projects to see what has worked and what hasn’t.

“What there isn’t so much of perhaps is – say for example with solar PV – looking back and saying what were the projects that were implemented five to ten years ago,” he said. “How successful have they been? How sustainable have they been? What lessons can be learnt from them?”

All projects great and small

Finding the right method for the right community, such as this solar water heating initiative in South Africa, is vital. (Source: UNFCCC)

Ewan Bloomfiled, Energy Consultant at Practical Action, agrees that communities must be at the heart of the work taking place, whether looking at large scale renewables or smaller scale projects.

Practical Action’s projects have included small bioenergy systems for cooking and lighting at a household level, to larger projects such as micro-hydro generation.

He stressed the power that these renewables can bring, if tailored to what communities want and need, should not be under-estimated.

“Some of the micro-hydro systems have enabled small businesses to set up. One of the most common things is ladies will set up a hair salon, so people don’t have to go several hours into the city to get their hair done – and that is a really nice community engagement,” he explained.

“Then there is also refrigeration for drinks and then more practical, important things such as health care, so being able to keep vaccines cool for a rural health clinic. Another area would be refrigerating food that would otherwise go off.”

Filling the skills gap

But how far would any project get without the skills available locally?

For some of the researchers the communities receiving help with these low-carbon projects should not only be at the heart of the decision making, but be invested in the entire project, through to installation, maintenance and replacement.

This means not only transferring the technologies themselves, but also the skills and knowledge that come along with them.

David Ockwell, from the Sussex Energy Group at Sussex University says that it doesn’t matter how big or small the project is, unless those using it have the knowledge to manage it, the technologies will become redundant.

Rob Byrne, also from the Sussex Energy Group said: “We need also – in developing countries – to build the capabilities around the skills and knowledge and the systems that can make use of those skills and develop them further.”

“This would mean developing countries, at the national level and the sub-national level, can actually make those decisions themselves. They will have the skills and the capabilities and the systems in place to make the choices and decisions in the particular context in which they are being made.”

“If it is going to sustainable there needs to be local skills.”

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