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University of Bath

Beyond the technological fix: Sustainable energy options and development in Nigeria

This research will critically explore the drivers and dynamics of household energy decision-making at three research sites across Nigeria.

A lorry loaded with fuelwood in urban Kano.
An urban fuelwood market in Kano: Nigerians still depend on wood for two-thirds of all energy consumed.

Increasing household access to affordable and sustainable sources of domestic energy in sub-Saharan Africa is vital for alleviating poverty, attaining the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and combating global climate change. Volatile petroleum markets and global concerns over energy insecurity have led to rapid advancements in ‘green renewables’ such as off-grid solar energy – seen as capable of delivering ‘win-win’ outcomes due to their ability to provide sustainable energy while promoting ‘pro poor’ economic growth.

A lacuna in much recent renewable energy research has been the lack of in-depth exploration of the multi-scalar factors that shape the domestic energy choices for poor households in sub-Saharan Africa. There is a pressing need for interdisciplinary approaches that frame energy research more effectively within the broader socio-economic, cultural, behavioural, political, environmental and technological challenges affecting sustainable energy production, access and use.

Focusing on Nigeria, Africa’s most populous and energy-hungry country, this research will critically explore these drivers and dynamics of household energy decision-making at three geographically diverse research sites across the country. Informed by technical feasibility considerations and engaging with a wide range of stakeholders, the project will build new partnerships, and produce new knowledge and understanding for energy research in Nigeria. This will be the first step in laying the foundations for the submission of a major multi-country Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) research bid to follow.


Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country, and has recently surpassed South Africa as the continent’s largest economy. Although Nigeria is a major oil producer and exporter, successive governments have been unable to ensure an adequate, reliable and secure supply of energy, and around two thirds of the population have no access to electricity in their homes or communities. Overall population growth, increased urbanisation, expanding energy demands and intensified natural resource use among the poorest segment of the population have combined to stimulate recent changes in domestic energy consumption patterns.

In 2014, the Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP) identified the lack of a stable and sustainable energy supply as a major constraint to Nigeria’s economic growth and development potential. Nigeria therefore provides an ideal context within which to conduct our case study research, and the country and its growing population stands to benefit directly from the findings.

As a consequence of continuing cost reductions, technological innovations and new delivery models, off-grid alternative energy systems for households are seen as capable of delivering ‘win-win’ environmental outcomes while promoting ‘pro poor’ development. An important charge is that too often, promised benefits fail to be realised because technologically and environmentally driven strategies do not engage sufficiently with context-specific and micro-level considerations. Encouraging the use of more renewable energy sources therefore requires a more nuanced and systemic understanding of socio-economic, cultural and political contexts.

Building on the team’s networks and previous research on livelihood issues around domestic energy access, consumption and production, the main objectives of this study are:

  • To critically assess the different interests, agendas and capacities of key stakeholders within Nigeria’s renewable energy market and the sustainable energy solutions that may be appropriate.

  • To explore the factors that influence decision-making at the household and community level, in particular examining the socio-economic, political and cultural drivers that shape choice and up-take of domestic energy.

  • To create a broad, prospective life cycle based spatial model, to explore the most effective use and supply of resources in order to provide sustainable energy.

  • To disseminate findings to key stakeholders, soliciting feedback and generating wider policy lessons for implementing sustainable energy options.

Research team

  • Principal investigator:

Roy Maconachie (Social & Policy Sciences)

  • Co-investigators:

Marcelle McManus (Mechanical Engineering)

Chick Wilson (Chemistry)

  • BUK partner lead:

Adamu Idris Tanko


Engagement with research participants and dissemination to academic and non-academic audiences is central to this research and will involve:

  • an in-country stakeholder workshop (involving government, policy and donor agencies, civil society actors, local media representatives and academics)

  • engagement with NGOs

  • a research brief

  • and public lectures and discussions in international forums.


This research will yield a greater appreciation of the need for an informed, enabling and diverse intervention space in Nigeria’s domestic energy sector, and the value of responsive policy processes benefiting inter alia from proactive academic and applied research input.

Throughout the project, we will engage with planners and policy makers in Nigeria’s energy sector, to facilitate the co-production of knowledge and ensure that the research aligns with local challenges and needs. This will involve discussions to:

  • assess the direct relevance of our findings for energy, landscape and regional development policy/practice

  • evaluate the implications of our findings for on-going debates around sustainable development, attainment of the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals and global climate change.

Project Start, preliminary work, fieldwork design

1 NOV 2019  to  31 DEC 2019

During this initial phase, the research team will undertake preliminary desk-based analysis, reviewing existing academic material on energy transitions in Africa and the renewable energy market in Nigeria, synthesising grey literature and analysing key policy documents. The team will also refine the research methodology and the fieldwork design will be fine-tuned. With assistance from the BUK research team, research sites will be selected and the questionnaire survey instruments will be designed, piloted and refined.

Fieldwork/data collection and preliminary analysis

1 JAN 2020  to  30 JUN 2020

Maconachie will travel to Nigeria early in January 2020 to initiate the fieldwork with the research team at BUK. A one day methodology/training workshop will be held at BUK, before the team travels to the 3 research study locations to begin the work. At each study location, a distance decay transect of 3 sub-sites will be selected along the rural-urban continuum (rural, urban, and peri-urban sites) to explore different contextual factors that shape energy decision-making, access and up-take. During this visit, the team will carry out participatory research (PRA) activities and focus group discussions, and initial engagement with communities at the study sites will take place. Over the next 5 months, the BUK research team will return to the study sites to continue collecting data, spending 12 days in the field each month (60 days total). Community-level engagement will be complemented by key informant interviews with regional and national stakeholders involved in policy-making and the renewable energy market in Nigeria. Over the duration of Phase 2, research methods and activities will include the following:

  • An inventory mapping out the changing patterns of domestic energy policy and practice in Nigeria.

  • Participatory research with rural, urban and peri-urban communities to explore how the changing political economy of natural resource management is impacting on local livelihoods and household energy decisions.

  • Interviews and focus group discussions with a wide range of energy stakeholders, including farmers, Fulani pastoralists, elders, youth, women, woodfuel cutters and urban charcoal sellers.

  • Discussions with technical experts to explore issues of feasibility and to address tensions that may arise between social, developmental, policy and technical solutions.

  • Interviews with government officials, policy makers, NGOs and development organisations.

  • A broad prospective life cycle assessment of current domestic energy use, including spatial variations for renewable systems and differing end uses.

Review, dissemination and development of further research

1 JUL 2020  to  31 JUL 2020

In the final phase of the project, an interdisciplinary multi-stakeholder workshop will be held in Nigeria’s capital city, Abuja, and the research team will undertake further engagement with government officials and policy makers. This final phase will also provide the ideal opportunity for the Bath researchers to work closely with the BUK team on the draft of a publication and a larger GCRF research proposal. The team will keep working on both of these outputs over the summer of 2020, and both will be submitted by 01 September 2020.