Rural Renewable Electrification in Liberia: Outcomes and Opportunities from a Stakeholder Workshop
Rural renewable electrification in Liberia is a key component for the development of the country. The Rural and Renewable Energy Agency has taken leadership in promoting this sector. With support from the Center for Sustainable Systems at the University of Michigan, a stakeholder workshop was hosted in Monrovia in January 2017. Over 60 representatives attended the workshop from government, non-government, charitable, and private organizations. The purpose of the workshop was to catalyze collaboration, identify synergies, and encourage information exchange. The workshop also identified a series of gaps and stakeholder interests, as well as a suggested research agenda, that can be used to increase the effectiveness of rural electrification efforts and continue to catalyze collaborations among stakeholders.
Research presented at the workshop demonstrates that Liberia is poised to have a strong decentralized rural electrification sector. This sector can be competitive with centralized grid programs and can provide co-benefits to electrification such as job creation and local economic stimulation. The opportunity for public, private, and hybrid interventions is large.
Both centralized and decentralized expansion efforts are underway in the country, and discussions with workshop attendees revealed that there are disagreements over whether electrification efforts should start in urban centers and move out to rural areas, or start in the most rural areas and move in to connect with centralized networks. However, there seems to be consensus that particular attention is required for communities that have traditionally been underserved and underrepresented. The paper presents a timeline of policy development since the civil war and a summary of centralized and decentralized efforts for electrification so far.
While many different perspectives and opinions about rural renewable electrification were collected from stakeholders at this workshop, certain repeating themes and opportunities emerged. These can form the basis for identifying priority short-term rural electrification efforts and catalyzing stakeholder synergies. Stakeholders were clear that the leadership RREA is providing in organizing the sector is invaluable but that gaps remain that should be addressed. The themes and opportunities can be split into the following main categories: Information Sharing, Community Engagement, and Data Collection and Research. These categories naturally present some overlap. More detail on each is presented in the paper.
In light of the stakeholders’ feedback, several research opportunities were identified. These opportunities could provide a strong agenda for collaboration, synergies, and improvement in the rural electrification sector. Six specific research objectives are recommended for follow up:
1. Understanding Regional Costs of Biomass
2. Developing Tools for Understanding Community Scale Decisions
3. Incorporating West Africa Power Pool Analysis Into Existing Models
4. Hybrid Modeling of Power and Transportation Infrastructure
5. Modeling Social Network Influence in Technology Dispersion
6. Understanding Maximum Social Impacts Possible Under Budget Constraints.
Finally, there is significant interest from stakeholders to establish a regular communication forum to build upon on the momentum created during this workshop. This forum should be fostered by RREA but led by the stakeholders themselves to ensure sustainability. In the future, it will be important to include delegates representing rural communities at events and priority-setting conversations in order to enhance inclusion and leverage local knowledge. This type of engagement will allow RREA and others to capitalize on available synergies and accelerate rural electrification.