Sustainable Energy Access in Mozambique

Major research funding from the British Academy has been awarded to Dr Idalina Baptista, part of a team working on the project, “Sustainable Energy Access in Mozambique: Socio-political factors in conflict-laden urban areas”.

The 16 grants awarded as part of the British Academy Sustainable Development Programme fund aim to improve people’s lives in fragile, conflict-affected states, or in developing countries. The focus for all projects is on sustainable governance, sustainable growth, and human development. 

Dr Baptista’s team of researchers includes Dr Vanesa Castan Broto (principal investigator), University College London and Dr Joshua Kirshner, University of York.

The problem of energy access in Mozambique

Mozambique remains a largely unelectrified country. In 2014, only 25% of circa 25 million Mozambicans had access to an electricity connection.

Urban areas have better rates of connection than rural areas; in the capital, Maputo, the connection rate is highest, with 91% of its estimated population of 1 million.

Mozambique has abundant fossil fuel and hydropower resources, and a nascent renewable energy industry. There are existing business models, such as the prepaid electricity system, that enable poorer people to access energy in unprecedented rates.

What then explains the persistence of energy poverty? Why do some populations lack reliable sources for basic needs such as lighting, cooking and heating water? This is part of what the research project will be investigating.

‘Having access to an electricity connection is not the same as consuming a lot,’ said Dr Baptista. ‘One person in the UK consumes on average about the same amount of electricity in a year as 40 Mozambicans. Indeed, many people in Mozambique continue to satisfy their everyday energy needs for cooking and heating using charcoal or firewood.”

Mozambique remains the 20th poorest country in the world.

Factors underlying energy poverty

Dr Baptista and the project team argue that it is vital to understand the socio-political conditions that prevent access to electricity. Mozambique’s recent history is unsettled.

A former colony of Portugal, Mozambique became independent in 1975. It then entered into civil war between 1977-1992. Military tensions resurfaced in 2014 between the government and an opposition party concerning control of offshore gas deals.

Last year, international donors (notably the IMF and the EU) stopped aid contributions when it became apparent that the Mozambican government had illegally authorized loans worth upwards of USD$2 billion. Many suspect this money was used in the military conflict against the opposition.

“Currently, the issue of energy is the centerpiece of this country’s hoped-for stability and prospects of future sustainable development,” said Dr Baptista. “Mozambique needs to incentivize investment in power generation to address growing demand, as well as infrastructure to bring that electricity to communities, businesses and services around the country.”

The research project

Dr Baptista will serve as lead researcher into everyday management activities of Mozambique’s electric utility around service provision in Maputo. She’ll be investigating how management activities may promote – or prevent – unequal patterns of service provision in the city.

“We’ll be looking at the way the Mozambican government plans investments in infrastructure, how these plans are carried out, and which populations and parts of the country are served as part of those projects,” said Dr Baptista.

“Especially relevant to my area of work will be to examine how engineers, managers and other experts shape those decisions as they manage small budgets and limited trained workforce. For instance, they may opt to expand the grid to areas whose citizens are most able to pay – which is an inherent way of excluding the poorest from having access. This is something we want to investigate with the project, whether these sorts of decisions or others actually take place.”

Dr Baptista expects to be in Mozambique in April 2017.

For more information on Dr Idalina Baptista’s research on prepayment in Maputo:




Published 8 February 2017