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The University of Southampton
Economic, Social and Political Sciences

Researchers receive £2.6 million to help improve supply of electricity in rural Africa

Published: 18 November 2009 Origin:  Social Statistics and Demography

A consortium led by researchers at the University of Southampton's Civil Engineering and the Environment and Social Sciences has been awarded funding of £2.6 million to develop sustainable off-grid electricity supply systems in rural Africa.

The funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the UK government's Department for International Development (DFID) will enable the consortium of partners headed by the University of Southampton's Professor AbuBakr Bahaj to undertake the electrification of villages in rural Africa and assess the impact of the provision of electricity on people's lives against United Nations Millennium Development Goals.

In many developing countries the upfront cost of connecting rural villages to the nearest electrical distribution network is, and is likely to remain, prohibitively expensive. A reliable electrical supply is, however, vital for development in key areas including health, education and small businesses.

The work will be supported by researchers at Imperial College Business School who will be developing the business models. Seven of the project partners are based in Africa including the University of Nairobi and Jomo Kenyatta University.

Professor Bahaj, from Southampton's Civil Engineering and the Environment, comments: "We are delighted to have received funding from EPSRC and DFID for this project, which aims to implement sustainable electricity supply systems, such as solar energy, that promote development and improve wellbeing in communities and can be replicated and improved through business processes.

"The key question is how can one progress from 'one off' projects to deliver replication models that drive down costs, raise quality and local participation, and enhance the quality of life of villagers.

"Understanding and quantifying the potential socio-economic impact of the electrification schemes lies at the centre of this project."

Professor Nyovani Madise , from the University's Social Sciences, says: "Improving the wellbeing of rural people in Africa is a challenge that requires a multidisciplinary approach. This project will hopefully demonstrate how a single intervention can address multidimensional aspects of rural poverty and health."

The programme was selected through the EPSRC peer review process from among 24 projects (total value of £24 million), will last for five years and starts this autumn.

Gareth Thomas, International Development Minister, said: "The developing world's need for energy is set to increase substantially over the next few decades, and so it is essential that we work to ensure this demand is met through clean, renewable sources.

"That is why the UK Government, through DFID, is involved in this project, which will help to supply the electricity rural Africans need to pull themselves out of poverty without endangering global efforts to tackle climate change."

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