The project researches the link between well-being and the provision of renewable, off-grid energy in informal settlements in South Africa. It will provide detailed, qualitative and quantitative data on off-grid energy provision impacts on well-being in the poorest South African households. Data will be sourced using innovative, app-based digital methodologies, and interviews and other qualitative methods. The project unites engineers and social scientists through the main project activity: an intervention to bring solar home systems and a mini grid to a small informal settlement in Cape Town, that has not been electrified. In so doing the project sets out to achieve real change, and addresses Sustainable Development Goals related to sustainable and healthy communities, reducing inequalities, and improving socio-environmental conditions for households. A key aim of the project is to engage with South African decision makers and private sector audiences in addition to communities, to ensure the findings of this project have the potential to inform policy.
The intervention is informed by prior work, carried out through the social scientists on the project team, assessing the implications of a potential intervention. The project is aimed at generating and maintaining well-being in informal settlements that do not enjoy formal energy grid connection. By focusing on the clear link between clean, safe and affordable energy provision and material and social well-being, the project’s intervention in the selected settlement aims to collect data on changes in well-being as a result of mini-grid provision, at the same time as actually providing a material change in a specific settlement. Thus, while the project’s broader aims are to generate and analyse data on energy and well-being that can inform policy and other audiences, it also aims to deliver a well-being-focused, material intervention in a specific informal settlement, and thus to enable change and an increase in well-being within the project’s lifetime.
What we do
Firstly, Zonke energy, our project partner will build a mini-grid in a community in Cape Town. Following this, the well-being effects of the intervention will be assessed and analysed by the social scientists on the project team. The collection of qualitative data will be enabled by the South African postdoc. In addition, part of the project’s longitudinal data collection will be enabled through surveys, using an app, specially designed for this purpose. This will be delivered through non-academic partner Thrie Energy Collective (TEC). TEC combines digital development know-how with the ability to tailor apps both to local contexts of informality, and to the requirements of data research for social science. In addition, project results and dissemination will see input from both engineering and social science perspectives. This is because we expect both the engineers that are responsible for the technical and design parts of the intervention, as well as the social scientists, to contribute to policy-focused outputs that will help the project achieve significant impact.
While the project’s clear tackling of SDGs (3,7 and 11), it is aimed at the context of South African informal settlements, we expect some of the project’s findings and policy recommendations to be translatable to international, sub-Saharan policy, donor and private sector audiences.
Finally, by working in an informal context that is overlooked by current energy and well-being delivery policy infrastructures, and by collecting and analysing granular, household-focused data from within an informal settlement, the project aims to contribute to informing the process of developing approaches to well-being challenges related to urban infrastructures. While the project aims to inform policymakers and to generate impact in terms of top-down energy and well-being policies, at the same time our focus on engaging in depth with an informal settlement community, as well as with a start-up solar mini-grid firm, enables the project to speak about approaches to energy and well-being challenges in a broader way, one that includes both grassroots aspects, and contributions from the private sector.