LCEDN 6th Conference, 2017: Reflections

7 November 2017

Three sets of reflections regarding the LCEDN 6th Conference (9-11 September  2017, Durham) are provided below, the first set were written by Dr Britta Turner (LCEDN), the second set by Honor Drummond (BSc(hons) Geography student, Loughborough University) and the final set by Chetanraj Dhillon (BSc(hons) Geography with Economics student, Loughborough University). 

 

Dr Britta Turner is a post-doctoral research associate working for the LCEDN’s Transforming Energy Access initiative, and was a key member of the conference organisation team. Britta has provided this first set of conference reflections below:

 

I previously hadn’t considered the impact of my research on existing inequalities, and it was a useful frame of reference” (LCEDN Conference delegate, 2017)

The concept of Energy Justice has been gaining traction in academic literature in recent years and at the LCEDN we decided to make “Equity and Energy Justice” the theme of our conference this year. Whilst equity and energy justice are issues that are central to the work of the LCEDN, they are not issues that we have previously singled out in this way, so we were of course curious to see how they would fit into the kind of debates we have about low carbon energy in development.

Two things strike me as having been really useful about this focus: Firstly, it created new links to areas of both scholarship and practice that we have not engaged with in much depth before. One of the frequent comments I got during the two days was from people saying how inspiring it was to see delegates and speakers who were not all ‘the usual suspects’. Bringing together ‘new voices’, researchers and practitioners from different disciplines and backgrounds is core business for the LCEDN so I really count this as a bonus. To further strengthen this 90.5% of delegates who filled in our feedback survey said that they had made contact with delegates that they are likely to collaborate with in the future.

Secondly, the focus on equity and energy justice seemed to provide a really useful and engaging frame of reference for researchers from different disciplinary backgrounds as well as practitioners operating in different areas to join in conversation; and a conversation which didn’t just revolve around the moral imperative, but began to engage with the thorny question of how to do or ensure equity and energy justice in practice. A few more quotes from our feedback forms, responding to the question of what key messages delegates took home illustrate this:

 “How enterprise and business models may or may not contribute to LCD and energy justice; evidence on gender aspects of energy justice from various, not necessarily similar, case studies”

“The role that energy justice might play in promoting a more social science orientation to energy for development research”

“That equity and justice in energy access are intertwined and go beyond gender equality”

“Strengthened commitment to embed energy projects in communities.”

“That there needs to be a better bridge between practitioners and researchers and that the current research needs to be disseminated better.”

Over the two days at the conference there was more talk about energy injustice than energy justice; what kinds of injustice we can see (procedural and distributional justice issues being most frequently raised), and how these can be avoided? Energy justice then in many ways focused attention on energy access initiatives and projects as social and political transitions. This was clear in the keynote speeches which in different ways challenged us not to get so caught up in technology and infrastructure that we forget about the people; the winners and losers, and about what energy is for. But it was also clear in the debates (and indeed in the feedback comments above) that framing energy for development as a social and political problem did not deter those who are not social scientists. As the conference came to a close I felt that what we had achieved in the two days was not so much a shared and clear definition of what energy justice might look like, but rather a recognition of the need for the principle of it to become an important part of what we are trying to achieve.

Whilst we at the LCEDN are very happy with how this conference went, we recognise that the one thing that we could have done better would have been to provide more time for debate. With this in mind I’d like to draw your attention to the powerpoint presentations we have now uploaded to our website. Looking through power point presentations on their own of course does not compare to hearing the presentation which goes with it, but I would still like to recommend that you have a look at some of these presentations. They are organised according to sessions and presenter surnames, please refer to the programme for full titles. Many of the presentations finish with an email address and an opportunity to ask those questions and make those links that you might not have had the opportunity to do at the conference. A further resource which I would thoroughly recommend is the webinar on “perspectives on energy justice” which followed up on the conference theme. It can be accessed on the following link: http://e4sv.org/events/september-2017-webinar-perspectives-energy-justice/

 


 

Honor Drummond is currently a 3rd year BSc(hons) Geography student at Loughborough University and has previously worked on the SONG Solar Nano-Grids project. This is her summary of the two days:

 

The LCEDN conference brought together a variety of scholars, researchers and businesses from a range of fields to discuss energy justice, inspire new research and reflect on current projects.

In the Governance, Power and Resistance 1 session, there were presentations looking at gender justice, financial justice and power. Dr Noel Healy from Salem State University presented a case about the impacts of coal on indigenous communities in Colombia. In a different session, entrepreneurism and productive uses were explored. Carmen Dienst looked at the need for productive uses of energy as market solutions, followed by an empirical example from Aran Eales in Malawi, which complemented each other well. All of these presented projects from different countries with different themes, however all underpinned with the theme of energy justice – whether it was identifying the injustices, how it is changing, or how it needs to be changed.

One of the key note presentations, given by Professor Joy Clancy, highlighted one of the main justice issues; gender justice. This presentation identified the overall issues of gender justice in energy, not just in the global South, but also the global North. This highlighted issues ranging from employment gaps to energy use and power. This was a theme throughout many presentations, such as Mini Govindan in ‘does technology justice lead to gender justice?’ to which she concluded that technology justice does not lead to gender justice from empirical research so far.

The second day included sessions on ‘energy justice in the context of the SDGs: from theorization to practice’ and ‘business and technology panel – designing in justice’. This included people from different fields, such as Dr Cle-Anne Gabriel from a business approach, to architect Khaiko Makwela-Wali. Dr Cle-Ann noted how the conference restored inspiration to keep working on energy justice from a business approach unlike the usual focus of business which is money oriented. However, Cle-Ann also said we can learn from this approach to make it more successful. Also, Khaiko Makwela-Wali from Green Global Architecture noted how the approach from architecture could provide another source to work with as well as engineers. This is as they are looking to produce the products to provide these services. There were also lawyers, geographers, engineers, anthropologists and policy makers, to name a few. This represents the breadth of people who can be involved within the LCEDN to contribute to promote energy justice, and how they can work together for a more successful outcome.

To conclude the two days of the conference, there was a fuelled discussion to talk about innovative ways of research, new ideas and approaches, and things that need to be addressed in current research. In particular, one idea that received high recognition was from Cle-Anne Gabriel, stating that rather than as researchers creating a hypothesis then finding the problem to research, to actually look at what there is to fix, then create a way to find that.


Chetanraj Dhillon is currently a 3rd year BSc(hons) Geography with Economics student at Loughborough University and has previously worked on the SONG Solar Nano-Grids project. This is his summary of the two days:

 

The 6th annual LCEDN Conference took place over 2 days, from 11th to 12th September 2017, at Durham University and brought together a great number of academics and practitioners from a range of organisations – state and non-state –, disciplines, and countries to set the stage for the dissemination of leading research and best-practice and future collaboration.

The conference covered three key topics in the field of Renewable Energy and Development in the context of developing countries:

  • Private sector solutions
  • Governance, power and resistance
  • Community, households, and local energy governance

Each key topic was explored in depth as each speaker presented their recent empirical findings and thoughts within a different sub-topic of one of the three key topics, followed by a synthesis of key points and comments regarding interconnections between presentations.

The conference raised a number of key issues, but placed most heavy emphasis on the importance of:

  • Energy justice.
  • The need for a highly collaborative and multi-scaled approach, whereby the state, NGOs, and locals work together within a largely non-hierarchical structure.
  • Communicating and consulting directly with the communities that practitioners might work with on an on-going basis in order to understand their culture, political systems, physical environment, capabilities, and, most importantly, their current and future energy needs.
  • Abandoning the compartmentalisation approach in favour of a more holistic approach to the provision of renewable energy whereby practitioners seek to understand all of the diverse interconnections that make up an energy project in order to create a comprehensive appreciation of the complexities of an energy project so that practitioners might be more effective in planning, implementation, and monitoring.
  • The need to align the efforts, perspectives, and goals of each and every stakeholder.
  • The need to develop commercially viable models.
  • The need to develop a framework for gender-aware energy policy.

Conclusion

Much progress has been made in the provision of renewable energy in developing countries and the improvement of energy justice, but resources are limited and many barriers remain, some known and some yet to be discovered, thus practitioners must continue to share best-practice, co-ordinate efforts to avoid duplication and resource waste, and be patient and take the time to make well-informed decisions.

 


Resources. 

Presentations of plenary speakers and conference delegates can be accessed in the Resources section (filed under 'Conference Proceedings' sub-section). 

 

 

Dr Britta Turner

Research Associate, Transforming Energy Access (TEA) initiative, LCEDN (Durham)

Dr Britta Turner joined the LCEDN team as a Research Associate for the Transforming Energy Access (TEA) initiative in June 2017. She is based at the Department of Anthropology at Durham University. Britta contributes to the day-to-day operation of the programme of activity under the TEA project. Britta is particularly interested in energy ethnographies and qualitative analysis of energy technologies in their contexts of use. 

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