View from the inside: global development, energy, equity and progress

solar panels on roof of factory near Nairobi

We caught up with Kenneth from our Energy, Resources and Growth team to get his view on the biggest challenges in global development today.


  • Kenneth C. Ene Senior Technical Advisor, Energy, Resources and Growth
    Kenneth Ene

A veteran of the global development industry, Ken has worked across diverse sectors and countries – including, most recently, Nigeria and the US. Here he takes a deep dive into the global energy sector giving us insights into the importance of localization, political economy analysis, and a systems approach to policy reform. 

Q: Ken, you’ve worked in development for a long time. What have been the most significant shifts that you’ve seen in the sector in the last five years?

Ken: I have worked in development for over 20 years and see development as change. Today, the world faces several complex challenges and opportunities pertinent to the environment, economic growth, and development. Population growth, natural resource scarcity, energy poverty, conflict, food insecurity, and climate change are evolving issues. We have moved from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), other international commitments, and critical donor strategies designed to provide a basis for acting under a common framework for addressing development issues.

However, what is evident now is that to make progress in addressing the challenges we face as a planet, there is a need to work globally but also to do more at the country level with local actors to understand problems and opportunities. Implementing a systems approach that will look holistically at the root causes of issues that constrain development such as capacity, corruption, and political will among others and the interrelationships between the beneficiaries and other parts of their context, for instance, their families, communities, states, and governments, is even more critical.  

Successful actions will require international/national support through political and financial commitments to provide technical solutions, build capacity, deploy capital, and strengthen systems. A positive is that there will be more opportunities to achieve a more significant impact because of increased capacity and partners, funding mechanisms, technology, and data. However, there is still a long road ahead which we need to navigate collectively.

Q: What are the current challenges you see in the Energy sector in particular? 

Development and a good quality of life depend on reliable and affordable energy. Traditional ‘dirty’ forms of energy that have powered human progress are being replaced by renewables. However, today, many people still lack access to electricity and rely on polluting fuels and technologies for transportation and cooking. Addressing this unmet energy demand without access to affordable power from cleaner and renewable sources would continue to contribute to high greenhouse gas emissions and ultimately speed up the effects of climate change.

Our collective goal is to limit global warming to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels. The challenges most nations face are how to build the capacity to scale cleaner, affordable energy and to access adequate investment, infrastructure, and technology. Political will is also critical to developing enabling policies and regulatory frameworks in poorer countries that both catalyze access to electricity and address energy efficiency and renewable energy generation.

The nexus between energy and sectors such as agriculture, health, and manufacturing, and its impact on critical issues such as gender equality and social inclusion is clear. Effective interventions to support climate-conscious and sustainable energy development are therefore critical to underpinning sustainable growth and equitable development and it is obvious that we must overcome the barriers in poorer countries that constrain investments in this area.

Q: So, in terms of addressing these challenges, what’s working – and what isn’t? 

Progress is being made on growing access to cleaner, renewable energy and improving energy efficiency worldwide, albeit with a significant unmet residual need for the growing energy demand in most developing countries. The influence of new funding arrangements, traditional bilateral and multi-lateral donors, foundations, civil society, and the private sector working with local actors is driving new approaches to address the challenges within the energy space. For example, USAID is working hard to implement their vision and approach for localization in the countries they work in. In addition, a new mixture of the latest technologies, better data, and an increasingly youthful population should offer opportunities to deliver impact.

While this should augur progress, the analogy that always sticks in my head is: ‘mopping/cleaning the floor while the tap is still running’ because, despite all the interventions, there are still massive supply issues and millions living with sub-optimal quality energy services. These issues are in part due to operational inefficiencies, outdated infrastructure and practices, inefficient fiscal and pricing regimes, limited incentives to attract investments, and so on.

But one critical area that is often overlooked, whilst its impact is often underestimated, is that of the political economy of the local contexts where we intervene. A good example of the perils of ignoring local political context could be seen in research that we supported in Haryana, India, with the University of Chicago, looking at the implementation of a local utility’s attempts to implement a programme to install domestic smart meters. The idea was that such meters would allow more accurate billing of households for their electricity use, be more efficient for the utility (no meter readers) and the consumer (online bill payment) and allow for the remote and simple disconnection of consumers who refused to pay their bills. Improving the efficiency of operations and cutting down on ‘administrative losses’ from non-payment of bills is critical to helping many troubled utilities move towards balancing their books.

But in this case, despite an official policy supporting the use of smart meters, the research found that utility officials were reluctant to implement the rule-based disconnection regime announced alongside the installation of smart meters, which was subsequently not adhered to in the field and was quickly discontinued by the utility. The researchers were informed that there were ‘unwritten rules’ governing how non-payers should be dealt with which meant implementing a transparent rules-based system was not possible. Recognizing political economy challenges and how they might be overcome will be important in designing actions to introduce advanced technologies of this nature.

Q: Can you share an example of where you have seen our work influencing energy policy? 

An example of impact was in Uganda where energy efficiency is an integral part of the national strategy. The National Development Plan, Energy Policy, and Climate Change Policy outline commitments to promote energy efficiency mechanisms. One of the many targets set out by the Government is to reduce industries' electricity consumption by 15-25% by 2025. Despite these high-level commitments, Uganda is far from reaching this target.

Through our Energy and Economic Growth Programme, we focused on the iron and steel industry and the cement industry, the most energy-intensive industries in Uganda. The project adopted a multi-stakeholder deliberative approach, energy economic modelling, and capacity building. Our work informed the decisions to include iron, steel, and cement in the Sustainable Public Procurement National Action Plan, which will use the government’s buying power to influence best practices in the industries. The project thus achieved policy change in Uganda.

Another example of impact would be the passage of the Petroleum Industry Act in Nigeria in 2021 (the most transformative policy in the sector). The road to enacting this Act has taken over twenty years, and for ten years our team was a focal point through the UK government-funded project, the Facility for Oil Sector Transformation (FOSTER). FOSTER supported the government in developing a clear vision for the oil and gas sector and the need for reform. FOSTER also helped to unpack technical issues and worked with civil society organizations to coordinate advocacy efforts around the oil and gas sector. FOSTER was also able to harness political will at the presidential level and brokered relationships between the executive and legislative arms of Government.

Q: Thanks! Looking ahead, what are the biggest development challenges for this year and beyond?

A significant number of people still live in poverty, in low-income countries, and in increasingly fragile contexts that are difficult to work in. As a result, the biggest challenges of 2024 and beyond (climate change, achieving sustainable development, food security, poverty, conflict, human rights…) will remain increasingly complex, with a myriad of factors compounding the situation.  The need to do things differently in some sectors could affect other parts of society.

For instance, the pathway to a just energy transition (JET) must be practical and timely. However, this transition from a carbon-heavy economic development model to a ‘green’ more sustainable model will have broader impacts, ranging from revenue losses for fossil fuel-rich countries, loss of jobs or need for reskilling and other issues for diverse populations.

Geopolitical issues will continue to create economic and social consequences, as highlighted by the global impact of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine on food and fuel prices. Combined with the legacy of the challenges caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, lower-income countries are now facing high levels of external debt and rising interest rates, making access to international capital markets difficult.

The impacts of climate change are also becoming more apparent as there have been increasing incidences of extreme weather conditions leading to wildfires, floods, and droughts worldwide. These events have direct economic impacts, such as damage to infrastructure, agriculture, and livelihoods, and have increased the underlying risks and vulnerabilities that nations face. Any interventions that address these issues should not be created totally in a vacuum or from far away.  

But to end on a more positive note: the benefits of co-creation and collaboration far outweigh any negatives in terms of cost or logistics. This co-creation will build on the needs, knowledge and aspirations of the beneficiaries and key actors and set them up to be part of the implementation and measurement and evaluation process when projects start.

 About the author:

Kenneth Ene is a Senior Technical Advisor with the Energy Resources and Growth Team based in our US office. Ken brings 20 years’ experience in managing the technical delivery of adaptive projects focused on energy access and sustainability, good governance, and policy reform. Ken has strong experience in multi-stakeholder engagement and political economy analysis, and has provided policy advice at the highest levels of government in several countries.

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