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In the slums of Kampala, the phrase “survival for the fittest” takes on a whole new meaning: reflections from a recent field trip studying electricity access in Nakulabye slum, Kampala, Uganda

penlope.yaguma.2031 October 2022

By Penlope Yaguma

Penlope Yaguma is a 3rd year PhD student of Energy and Development Policy at the UCL Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy (UCL STEaPP) and the UCL Engineering for International Development Centre (EfID). Her broad research interests are on electricity access in slums and informal settlements in African cities, with a specific focus on Uganda’s cities. Penlope’s work is inspired by her own experiences of growing up and living in Uganda, and she hopes to bring her formal training in electrical engineering and sustainable energy systems to understanding and creating solutions for the inequalities and injustices in service delivery and infrastructure provision in African cities.

Everyone looks down on us because we live in the ghetto, but deep down they know that these ghettos are the heartbeat of Kampala.

Despite slums’ close proximity to grid infrastructure or sometimes literally under the grid, accessing electricity in Kampala’s slums remains precarious, costly or downright unsafe

How it all began: In September 2022, I set out to do the fieldwork and field data collection for my PhD research in Nakulabye slum, one of over 60 slum settlements in Uganda’s capital Kampala. The plan was to conduct household surveys, hold focus group discussions in the settlement and interview key stakeholders on all matters electricity access specifically and access to social services and infrastructure more broadly. I was very fortunate to work with a passionate field team of geography students from Makerere University’s Urban Action Lab and the Centre for Climate Change Research and Innovation, and community guides who were residents of the settlement. We also received overwhelming support and assistance from the local council leaders (LC1s) of all nine administrative villages/zones that make up Nakulabye settlement. Many generously shared their experiences of securing social services for their jurisdictions and improving livelihoods for community members, families, and businesses. The devastating effects of Covid-19 and increasing cost of living are still being felt in Nakulabye, forcing some to close their businesses or pack up their families and move back to the village. Following two settlement walks, training and piloting the survey questionnaire, the actual data collection began – lasting about 2 weeks in total. In this blog post, I reflect upon this fieldwork exercise and write about my experiences and key observations.

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PhD Episode III: The Rise of Engineering Advice

laurent.liote.1910 October 2022

Laurent Liote is a fourth year PhD student at UCL STEaPP. Follow him on LinkedIn (Laurent Liote), Twitter (@LaurentLiote) or ping him an email (laurent.liote.19@ucl.ac.uk).

Hi there, yes, it’s still me… and yes, I’m still working on my PhD! It’s been a few months since the last update so I figured I’d let you all know that, as promised, I’m working on the final part of my PhD trilogy (Episodes I and II can be found here and here, respectively). The overarching story arch, if you’ve missed the two previous instalments, is about understanding how engineering advice is deployed in energy policy practice. This post picks up where we left off, outlining what I’ve been up to since January and where I’m going next.

PhD Episode Three image in the style of Star Wars

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Carbon dilemma: Indonesia’s experience

Muhamad Rosyid Jazuli25 August 2022

The transition from fossil fuel-based to renewable energy has become one of the most important global issues at least in the past two decades. In Indonesia, however, incentives for renewable energy have decreased and in contrast, ones for fossil fuels have increased (Kompas, 22/6).

The alleged increase in this unsustainable incentive is encapsulated in a report by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), titled Indonesia’s Energy Support Measures: An inventory of incentives impacting the energy transition, published this June.

During 2016-2020, the report states, that subsidies and compensation for fossil fuels in Indonesia reached 1,153 trillion Rupiah or around 65 billion Pounds. This number dwarfs incentives for other energy sources, for instance, 150 trillion Rupiah for renewable energy sources and 19 trillion Rupiah for electric vehicles and batteries.

Such gigantic spending indicates, unfortunately, that Indonesia is moving away from its commitment to building a low-carbon economy. At the Conference of the Parties (COP) 2009 and 2016, Indonesia committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 26% (with its own efforts) or by 41% (if receiving international assistance) by 2030.

Photo by Galen Crout on Unsplash

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Three shifts for improving the governance of emerging technologies

Basil Mahfouz11 June 2022

Without a coordinated global response, emerging technologies could quickly transform our world into a dystopia. By 2050, the lack of climate action may push mankind towards experimenting with planetary systems via geoengineering, lethal autonomous weapon systems could be deciding who lives and who doesn’t, while neuro-technologies will challenge the definition of what it means to be human.

To understand how to manage the societal impact of these technologies, on 16 May 2022, I joined 29 other specialists representing 21 countries at the Science Diplomacy Week Immersion Programme, a forum co-organised by the Geneva Science and Diplomacy Anticipator (GESDA) and the United Nations Institute for Training and Research.

The discussions highlighted that effectively governing frontier technologies requires three fundamental shifts across international science diplomacy: (1) adopting a proactive approach towards solving challenges, (2) leveraging cutting-edge computational tools, and (3) systemically scaling access to scientific knowledge.

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PhD Episode II: The Return of Ethnographic Methods

laurent.liote.1916 December 2021

Hi there, it’s been a while! I guess I’ve made some progress since the last time I wrote a post like this one. Rest assured the aim of my PhD has not changed, I’m still focused on understanding how engineering advice and related modelling insights are deployed in energy policy practice (the origin story can be found here). This post is about the initial work I’ve done to answer this question and where I’m going next.

In a UK government department not so far away…

So, what have I been up to in the last year then? Well, I did an initial case study with an engineering advice team within the UK government that provides advice on energy policy questions to the rest of their department. I interviewed engineers and policy advisors working together to gain insight into ‘the engineering-policy interface’ (a fancy way of saying ‘how engineers and policy advisors interact’). I turned the themes that emerged from the interviews into academic database search terms which returned four different strands of literature: science advice, engineering and philosophy, expertise in policy and models as boundary objects. I carried out a review of these fields and compared the literature’s conclusions against my findings, I call that ‘PhD Episode I’.

And what did I make of Episode I then? Like a first episode in what I hope to be a trilogy, it was interesting, set up the characters and storyline nicely but left quite a few questions unanswered. From what I saw, most of the engineering advice consisted of explaining a technology in layman’s terms to policy analysts, answering a question by providing a summary/diagram or designing/running a model. But that’s just scratching the surface and several findings warrant further investigation, constituting the basis for my second case study: Episode II.

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