Interview: Ryan Hogarth
What is your background? What attracted you to working with EEG?
My expertise is primarily in renewable energy and energy access. I have led academic research looking at demand for electricity amongst households, and my PhD at the University of Oxford included research into energy transitions. Then as a consultant at the Overseas Development Institute I continued to do work on energy access and renewable energy policy.
Energy access and climate change are two of the biggest challenges we face – for me this means finding ways to encourage the shift from power systems that are dominated by fossil fuels to those powered by renewables, while bringing energy to the billion people that lack it. What EEG brings to these areas is a focus on very applied research – funding research which directly answers the questions policy makers are grappling with on these issues.
What is your role on EEG?
As Technical Lead, I support our Programme Director to design the EEG research agenda – which research questions should be a priority for EEG, and which research projects can help answer those questions? Designing this agenda has been a highly collaborative process. We’ve worked hand-in-hand with the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) and our research partners, scientific advisors, and the professors who authored our early state-of-knowledge papers. We’ve also spent considerable time engaging with the potential users of EEG research – energy ministries, utilities, regulators and independent power producers.
Going forward my role will change significantly, because we’re about to launch 25 new research projects. It’s a very exciting time for us, as we move from agenda setting to procurement to implementation. Now we will focus a lot more on fostering cross-programme learning and ensuring that the evidence generated by EEG research projects is reaching those who can apply it.
What types of cross programme learnings do you think will emerge?
It’s too early to say what types of findings will emerge, but there are numerous common themes throughout the research projects. For one, we have quite a few projects that are exploring productive uses of electricity. We are interested in this topic for two reasons. First, we think that productive uses are a key mechanism for maximising the benefits of electricity infrastructure in low-income countries, which is the overall objective of EEG. Second, the increased demand for electricity associated with productive use is frequently needed to justify investments in electrification in the first place.
The Ethiopian Minister of Water, Irrigation and Electricity requested that we prioritise research on the potential for agricultural applications of electricity, such as irrigation, cold storage and post-harvest processing. So we now have two research projects in Ethiopia that are focusing specifically on this topic. RWI Leibniz Institute for Economic Research (RWI), in partnership with the Ethiopian Development Research Institute, is using machine learning algorithms and satellite imagery to model the demand for electricity from farmers across the country, while IFPRI Ethiopia is assessing the least cost options to provide electricity to agricultural consumers.
Beyond Ethiopia, we have randomised control trials being led by Wageningen University in Sierra Leone and RWI in Rwanda exploring whether productive applications of electricity can be enhanced by providing complementary inputs to communities after they are electrified – such as grants for electric machinery, subsidies for electric appliances and business support services.
We hope that the combined efforts of these projects will generate evidence on how to forecast demand from productive use and how to stimulate demand for productive use. These lessons could be ground breaking for electricity planners.
How do you aim to foster research uptake from these projects?
The first step is working with our research partners to make sure that they have all the resources they need to implement successful projects. Academic institutions are renowned for conducting highly rigorous research that yields robust evidence. However, it is not always presented in a format that is easily applied by policymakers. To bridge this gap, applicants for research funding from EEG were required to include in their proposals plans to promote uptake of their own research findings. These plans ranged widely – the University of Cape Town’s project on best practice in renewable energy auction designs will continue to provide training on procurement and financing of independent power projects, while KTH Royal Institute of Technology will help universities in Ethiopia, Uganda and Sierra Leone to establish centres of excellence for energy systems planning. Many projects included the potential users of findings in their project designs. For example, UC Santa Barbara’s project on modelling renewable energy resources in Southern Africa is working hand-in-hand with the Regional Energy Regulators Association and the Southern African Development Community’s Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency.
Experimental projects, by their very nature, need to include the users of the findings in their design. For example, the University of Chicago and JPAL has partnered with the Bihar State Power Holding Company Limited to assess the impact of a smart meter roll-out on consumers and utility performance.
Other researchers have partnered with organisations that will play the role of promoting research uptake. For example, a UC Berkeley project to model how temperature increases and income growth will affect demand for air conditioning across EEG countries is working closely with CLASP, an NGO promoting energy efficiency standards for electric appliances around the world. I don’t think anyone has fully grasped how rapid that growth in demand could be.
What impact do you think the EEG projects can have on policy and investment?
Research uptake is at the core of EEG’s approach, we have kept some budget in reserve for communication events, training programmes and other activities. We plan to deploy this in a way that brings researchers together with policymakers and practitioners to work through some of the biggest challenges facing power systems.
Expanding energy access is already a global priority – and there is great momentum in that space. EEG is trying to ensure that other issues, such as reliability, energy efficiency and productive uses, are tackled in parallel. These are equally important considerations if we are to achieve the global development targets we have set ourselves.
We are funding an event at the end of March which will bring together parliamentarians from across Asia to discuss the potential for regional trading of renewable energy. This is an area with enormous potential and Jyoti Parikh, Executive Director of Integrated Research and Action for Development (IRADe) in New Delhi, and the Principal Investigator for a new EEG research project into the declining costs of solar, wind and storage technologies on regional power trade in South Asia will be sharing their previous research at the event.
Through ongoing discussions with PIs and their partners we keep a close eye on opportunities, but we also want research proposals to come from our existing partners. We’re always open to ideas for new projects or partnerships.