World Energy Day 2019 links to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 7 (UN SDG 7); 'Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all' by 2030. The target includes:
The Royal Society-DFID Africa Capacity Building Initiative (ACBI) supports 10 five-year collaborative projects through a consortia-based approach. The projects comprise UK- and Africa-based scientists researching key issues of development in low-income countries: soil science, renewable energy and water and sanitation.
Each grant funds PhD students, research costs, travel, training, and equipment. The 10 grants support 30 African partners who are based across 18 sub-Saharan African countries in almost 30 different institutions. The Royal Society-DFID Africa Capacity Building Initiative is funded with UK aid from the UK government.
We have spoken with four research groups working in the area of renewable energy to understand how their research links to UN SDG 7:
How is your research addressing current global energy-related challenges?
Ajambo Flavia: We are researching ways to harness the sun’s energy to create a fuel from wood, agricultural waste and algae that can be used to generate electricity to power a micro-grid. Traditional ways of burning fuel for cooking create smoke pollution that causes major health problems, particularly for women and children. Changing the way energy is supplied and used will not only bring power to people, it will also save lives.
Robert Mokaya: This project aims to deliver efficient replacements for fossil fuel sources. The target materials are porous solid stores of renewable energy and catalysts for the sustainable production of renewable bio-fuels.
Bradley Bock: We are researching solar power-generation technologies where large curved mirrors concentrate the sun's energy onto a pipe, inside which water boils, generation steam, which is then used to drive a turbine and produce electricity. This process presents a more affordable form of renewable energy that could be implemented in developing countries, improving access to power.
J. Awudza: We are researching inorganic compounds that can be used as the material that absorbs light in thin film solar cells. These cells are designed to be cheaper to produce than current silicon based technologies and are potentially excellent contenders for deployment in developing nations due to their low cost and ease to mass manufacture.
How do you involve the community in your research?
Ajambo Flavia: The project from its inception has provided platforms like conferences, workshops and training to educate stakeholders on the outcomes of the research. We have engaged with over 200 investors and entrepreneurs, and we hope to partner with these entrepreneurs to take up the research at the end of the project.
Robert Mokaya: We engage with the community to make sure our energy solutions are tailored to locally available resources. We believe community engagement with research is vital to highlight the need for investment into research to drive technological innovation.
Bradley Bock: We have used workshops, meetings and other events to engage with industry, research organizations, policy figures and the general public in our partner counties. This engagement, outreach and dissemination complements the training activities that are a core part of the project, and which are intended to provide important skills for our researcher partners in sub-Saharan Africa.
J. Awudza: We believe strongly in community engagement in our research. We recently held an international conference on renewable and sustainable energy, where we invited key policy makers and school children from three local schools to the opening session. For the school children, we wanted to help shape their understanding of renewable energy at a young age.
Why is UN SDG 7 so important to fulfil?
Ajambo Flavia: Energy is fundamental to people's livelihoods and access to modern, clean energy is part of the pathway out of poverty. Our research builds capacity and provides the tools to achieve SDG 7. We are working closely with small businesses who are installing community-based energy generation and micro-grids. It is these business that need the skills, technology and funding to achieve SDG 7.
Robert Mokaya: Considerable, sustained investment in research projects big and small is absolutely essential for true advancement against SDG 7. Importantly these investments must continue to fund both scientific advancement, through research, and people, through graduate training schemes and training of technicians etc, to ensure good value for money and legacy at the research institutes.
Bradley Bock: It is both an incredibly important as well as incredibly complex goal to fulfil SDG 7. Getting the new capacity that has been built being transferred over to industry and help further sustainably industrialize Africa will be the final and largest hurdle we face. Our partners will need support from their respective governments to assist with that.
J. Awudza: SDG 7 describes one of the basics that we expect in the UK yet is not delivered worldwide. Our consortium is fully aligned to the vision of sustainable and clean energy generation for all and our research into synthesis of materials for thin film solar cells is directly addressing the challenges in SDG 7.
Your research is carried out by working with groups across the world. How has this helped your research?
Ajambo Flavia: We are also able to access different resources that may not be available in the individual countries including research material, testing facilities and experienced experts. This programme has led to the generation and launch of further research projects that will address global energy related issues.
Robert Mokaya: The consortium-based approach has delivered new resources and access to state-of-the-art equipment to researchers who are at internationally recognized centres for renewable energy and sustainable research.
Bradley Bock: Before this funding there was not much to promote collaborative research across UK and African universities in such an effective way with funding aimed at long-term impacts in the interest of Africa above-all. The facility with which we can be having meetings and attending workshops/conferences as well as conducting field work or capacity-building has been a game-changer for us.
J. Awudza: We are able to accelerate research because knowledge is shared rapidly and effectively. We are able to ensure the chemistry developed in the UK is installed and used by our partners who are now able to produce new materials that can potentially be used in their own thin film solar cells developed in-house.
On World Energy Day, what would you like to say to encourage people to take an interest in global energy-related issues?
Ajambo Flavia: Energy is at the heart of economic growth, increasing social equity, and an environment that allows the world to thrive through improved education, livelihoods and business.
Robert Mokaya: There is need for a concerted global response to climate change whilst maintaining and improving the quality of life of the world’s citizens including access to energy.
Bradley Bock: The global energy crisis is something that will ultimately affect all of us, so it is in everybody’s interest to recognize and understand global energy-related issues. It is also really worthwhile finding out about the exciting and innovative research being undertaken to address these issues.
J. Awudza: There is an energy crisis coming and only through research into alternative energy sources that are inexpensive and sustainable, followed by their widespread adoption will we be able to mitigate this.
With thanks to all researchers for their contributions to our interview:
- Ms Ajambo Flavia (Centre for Research in Energy and Energy Conservation, Uganda) and Professor Jon Lovett (University of Leeds, UK), on behalf of the ACERA consortium who are researching ‘Solar treatment of biomass for power generation’.
- Professor Robert Mokaya (University of Nottingham, UK), on behalf of the ‘Strengthening African capacity in porous materials research’ consortium.
- Mr Bradley Bock (University of Pretoria, South Africa), Professor M. Khalil Elaheee (University of Mauritius, Mauritius), Professor Christos Markides (Imperial College London, UK) and Dr Olabode Olakoyejo (University of Lagos, Nigeria) on behalf of the ‘Harnessing phase-change heat exchange in solar power systems’ consortium.
- Professor J. Awudza (Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Ghana) and Dr David Lewis (University of Manchester, UK) on behalf of the ‘Developing materials for solar cells’ consortium.