EPD Thesis students

Students have the opportunity to write their master thesis under the supervision of EPD researchers. Michael Boulle, Gordon Kerrick and Peter Atkins are currently writing their theses with us.


Michael Boulle

TOPIC: Low carbon development and improved mobility through bikes

The issue of anthropogenic climate change and its effects are well documented. Consequently, governments around the world are being put under pressure to reduce their national greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Under the Copenhagen Accord South Africa has voluntarily agreed to reduce its emissions below business as usual by 34% by 2020 and 42% by 2025 (Department of Environmental Affairs 2011). In an effort to achieve these targets, national, provincial and local governments have begun to implement strategies. Not only must South Africa reduce emissions but it needs to do this whilst at the same time address the development challenges of the country. Low carbon development (LCD) is a concept that has become more prominent in development discourse, and is essential for allowing development to proceed but at the same time averting a climate catastrophe and resource depletion (Mulugetta, Urban 2010).

From an energy and emissions perspective, the transport sector is one of the most important sectors to consider in Cape Town. According to (Sustainable Energy Africa, University of Cape Town 2011), in 2007 the transport sector was responsible for 50% of energy consumption and 27% of carbon emissions in Cape Town. Unlike the electricity sector, the transport sector does not currently have viable renewable energy options that could replace liquid fossil fuels as the dominant energy source. Therefore other strategies are required to address the problem. In addition, the energy and emissions intensive nature of the city’s transport sector is not the only challenge it faces. The effects of apartheid planning are still visible in the structure of South African cities today. Consequently, the access of low-income households to urban opportunities is limited, households spend a disproportionate share of their income on long commutes, and mobility of these households is below a satisfactory level (City of Cape Town 2005).

It is evident that transport in Cape Town is a significant barrier to the development of low-income communities. With informal settlements being the fastest growing part of the city this trend is set to become more pronounced and the growth in population will lead to an increase in the emissions profile of the city (Ward, Walsh 2010). In order to improve mobility of the growing low-income population of Cape Town in a way that contributes to their development and at the same time reduce emissions, significant changes in the transport sector are required.

This study aims to display the importance of LCD that is accessible to the poor and the relevance of mobility for LCD. Much of the rhetoric surrounding LCD in developing countries is about job creation. However in many cases LCD is not formulated with the poor at the centre and as a result many of the benefits and opportunities associated with LCD remain inaccessible to the poor. The research will endeavour to show the importance of bottom-up contributions for the formulation of a low carbon development path. In order to demonstrate this it will investigate the potential of bicycles and bicycle empowerment centres (BECs) in low-income communities to improve the mobility of the poor, and contribute to poverty alleviation through achieving time and money savings, increasing independence and access to urban opportunities, and creating job generating spin-offs. Lastly the study will provide recommendations for supporting the increased use of bicycles and expansion in number and scope of BECs.

Gordon Kerrick

TOPIC: Renewable Energy for Water Pumping

The Elundini municipality, in the rural North Eastern region of the Eastern Cape comprising the towns of, amongst others, Maclear and Mt. Fletcher and situated on the South Western border of Lesotho, is currently struggling to provide fresh drinking water to some 50000 of its rural inhabitants. The Energy Research Centre was approached by representatives of the Elundini municipality in the hope of finding a solution to their problem, possibly via the use of renewable energy powered, water pumping technologies.

Currently most of the water supplied to the rural inhabitants of Elundini is done via diesel generators and although effective and versatile, do have several short falls including intermittent supply of diesel with fluctuating costs, and the need for regular maintenance (Oi, A. 2005).

This dissertation will seek to determine the efficacy of renewable energy powered technologies, namely solar PV and wind pumps, in providing water to the rural inhabitants of the municipality. This will be achieved firstly by studying the already existing data related to solar PV and wind pumping technology, in what climatic conditions they are most effective and how they would compare to currently used water pumping technologies (most commonly diesel generators).

Gordon Kernick is supervised by Andrew Hibberd from the Energy Efficiency team in the ERC and Holle Wlokas of the EPD team.

Peter Atkins

TOPIC: Generating carbon revenue for poverty alleviation projects in sub-Saharan Africa

Africa, and particularly sub-Saharan Africa, which is the geographical focus of this research, abounds with opportunities for carbon emission reduction projects with good social development potential. The extreme levels of poverty in most of the African countries indicate a great need for social development projects and this need is likely to be aggravated by the current global recession and future climate change impacts.

One source of social development project finance is revenue from carbon offsetting – where one party needs or wants to buy carbon reduction credits to offset its carbon footprint and a second party is able to generate carbon reduction credits through social development projects.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) through the Kyoto Protocol has set up an elaborate mechanism to encourage this process of offsetting emissions in the developed world through greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions in the developing world. This is the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). The way it works is that a developed country, which has committed to reduce its GHG emissions can buy emission reductions from a developing country project (these are called Certified Emission Reductions or CERs, 1 CER is 1 tonne of avoided CO2 equivalent emissions or 1 tCO2e). The GHG-reducing project then uses the carbon revenue to support itself. The associated carbon market is called the compliance market, as opposed to the voluntary carbon market.

The CDM has resulted in significant global GHG reductions amounting to over 800 million tCO2e. These CERs are then purchased by the developing countries and the money goes to the GHG projects. However, whilst the CDM has worked well in China and India, it has failed miserably in Africa – China and India account for 88% of the global CERs issued for sale whilst Africa has only managed 1%!

The main reasons for the failure of the CDM in Africa are the high cost of the CDM processes and the length of time it takes to get to the point where the CERs are ready for sale. The CDM transaction cost is typically around R 500 000 per year and the whole process can take up to three years before the CERs can be sold to produce revenue for the underlying project. This means that the CDM just doesn’t make sense for small projects which often don’t generate enough CERs to cover the transaction costs (at the current low CER prices of around Euro 3 to 4/tonne that would mean the project would have to deliver around 14 000 tCO2e per year – which is a big project in Africa).

However, there is still hope for African carbon projects through new, streamlined CDM processes and through the voluntary carbon market. These new CDM processes will take some time to filter through but meanwhile, the voluntary carbon market is flourishing, so that is where African carbon projects can best look for carbon revenue.

The voluntary carbon market is very different to the compliance carbon market although it is intended to deliver similar results – GHG reductions and sustainable development projects in the developing countries. The main difference lies in the motivations of the carbon credit buyers. For CER customers in the compliance market, buying CERs is usually done out of necessity – to meet their Kyoto obligations. Whereas voluntary market buyers do it for less tangible reasons; for instance to meet corporate social responsibility targets or to reduce their carbon footprints for altruistic or public relations purposes. Voluntary carbon credits are usually called VERs – verified carbon reductions – 1 VER is 1 tCO2e GHG reduction.

The effect of these different purchasing agendas is that voluntary carbon credits are not usually regarded as commodities as are CERs, rather, the public perception value of a VER depends heavily on the quality of the project which generated it.

This dissertation aims to verify the above assertions about the CDM failure in Africa and the part that the voluntary carbon market can play in sub-Saharan African poverty alleviation projects. It also explores, through a case study, how such projects are initiated and managed, how the VERs are calculated and verified, how best to generate carbon revenue and what constitutes best practice in all this.

The case study is the Umdoni Gel Stove project. This is an on-going project in KwaZulu-Natal which has supplied a poor community with gel fuel stoves and a small, monthly supply of bioethanol gel fuel.

The Umdoni municipal area consists of mainly poor, rural communities. Half of these communities are grid-connected to Eskom (the South African electricity utility), and half are not. 51% of Umdoni households use electricity for cooking and 61% for lighting. South Africa has an energy policy aimed at providing poor communities with at least some access to modern energy services. This is done through the Free Basic Electricity Policy (FBE) for grid-connected households and the Free Basic Alternative Energy Policy (FBAE) for non-grid-connected households. In the case of the Umdoni target group, which is not grid-connected, the Umdoni Municipality decided to supply gel stoves and bioethanol gel fuel. This was done in consultation with the affected community and with the help of the project developer, PPT and PACE, the project proponent, who managed the carbon accounting aspects. The project started in 2007 with the delivery of the first 1 000 gel stoves. This was increased by about 1 000 stoves each year. In 2008 PACE came on the scene with a plan to generate carbon revenue by selling carbon credits through Credible Carbon, a small voluntary carbon registry.

The formal objectives of the project are:

Alleviate poverty
Improve health and safety through improving access to modern energy services
Reduce greenhouse gas emissions and generate carbon revenue which is re-invested in the community
Part of the carbon credit process is to carry out periodic project audits to check that the project is still on track and is producing the estimated GHG reductions and delivering the expected community benefits.

By 2012, about 4 000 gel stoves had been installed and ZAR 500 000 of carbon revenue had been generated and passed back to the target community. This money will be used to buy about 1 000 efficient woodstoves for the same community. These stoves will deliver further community benefits, that is: reduce the amount of firewood that has to be collected and free up some of the fuel gatherers’ time, reduce air pollution, improve firewood sustainability and reduce GHG emissions and generate some additional carbon revenue.

Peter Atkins is supervised by Dr. Gisela Prasad, head of the Energy, Poverty and Development team.

Students: Michael Boulle, Gordon Kerrick and Peter Atkins