Ensuring sustainability of energy projects in Africa through community acceptability

The question of how the acceptability of renewable energy can be achieved at the community level has been a matter of ongoing discussion. In this paper, we have examined the three stages that affect community acceptability of renewable energy, namely market and innovation, socio-cultural acceptance, and political acceptance and governance. This paper has also highlighted the most recent conceptual model of acceptability, which places more emphasis on factors like trust, perceptions, and stakeholders as influential factors to renewable energy acceptability at community levels. The essence of acceptability cannot be underrated, and with Africa having a diverse cultural and social setting in terms of ethnicity, leadership hierarchy, economic classification, gender activity roles, and expectations, issues boarding on acceptability cannot be side-stepped in any energy project implementation on the continent. Thus, there can be real community RE project success when the inclusion of societal levels, from end-users through regional decision-makers to governments and agencies have been thoroughly taken into consideration.

The conceptual review has also embraced broad scholarly studies, which shows that an extensive and complex arrangement of relationships between people, technology, communities, and regulatory bodies, working at the different levels does affect social acceptability. We argue that social acceptability should, therefore, be seen inside these extensive arrangements of connections and as a significant aspect of the progress to attain energy access for communities. There is a sheer urgency to enhance procedures and practices identified within the implementation of renewable energy across local communities in Africa. By ensuring a careful and coordinated approach towards the social dynamics of communities, including a wide variety of stakeholders and partners who will directly or indirectly be affected by a project, will have an impact on renewable energy success. The process will undoubtedly require a fundamental methodology on social acceptance, dependant on trust between project initiators and the community to advance thoughts and mutual respect for one another.

Thus, to succinctly deal with the implications of acceptance, we recommend amongst the following that, a bottom-up approach that allows local people to be primary actors from project initiation to monitoring and evaluation is a prerequisite that should not be downplayed. By allowing communities to lead a project will bolster not only acceptability but also sustainability and a strong sense of ownership, which is crucial to project implementation success. Additionally, there is a need to survey the procedure on how national policies on energy can be converted into community projects through other elective methods to promote the sense of community ownership and sustainability. Perception may also influence the acceptance of renewable energy. With renewable energy technologies being relatively new in the African context, understanding psychological factors that interrelate and influence acceptance can enhance project design and implementation, for example, understanding how a technology works and its impacts, may shape the cost-benefit perception of consumers.

More so, we found out that quality standards, effective communication of policies, and skilled labour force, are prevalent challenges in the energy sector of many African countries. These challenges can be addressed through joint public education and decentralised training programmes for communities, to awaken their consciousness on policy initiatives and efforts by government. This approach is crucial in addressing the shortfalls of public awareness and information as it appears that many a time, citizens are kept in the dark on energy policies, making them unable to appreciate the effort by their respective government in meeting their energy demand and supply needs. Our review also indicates the need to increase local and private sector participation in sustainable renewable energy services in Africa. Policy instruments and incentives like a tax credit, feed-in-tariffs, grants, power subsidies, and payback credits should therefore be encouraged. Other potential impediments that deter private sectors from investing in the energy sector should also be removed, and by so doing, it will increase private investors’ confidence and security and also take the burden off the government’s shoulder in meeting the energy needs of citizens, mainly in rural settlements.

Lastly, the cultural dynamics and reverence for traditional leadership, local traditions and community beliefs should be treated under the lens of respect to ensure that community ownership and acceptance is fully guaranteed. To a possible extent, identified cultural institutions’ or equivalent should be actively involved in project processes to ensure that no tradition, custom or rules are breached but fully integrated into project implementation.

Excerpt of: Renewable energy project implementation in Africa: Ensuring sustainability through community acceptability, by Sarpong Hammond Antwi / Debora Ley, 2020

Download the full paper here.


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