Gaining insight into energy and sustainability in urban Kenya

 It’s been a few weeks since my arrival in Nairobi, Kenya, where I will spend the spring working on my master’s thesis on the topic of urban energy transitions in emerging markets. In practice, the work mostly involves data collection through in-depth interviews with researchers, decision-makers, industry representatives and other local experts. The insider insights have already proven valuable, as a large part of online information seems to be out of date or otherwise inaccurate.

So far, first-hand observations and interviews with organizations such as African Energy Research Policy Network, UN Habitat and Strathmore Energy Research Centre have provided new perspectives on the topical energy and sustainability matters in Kenya’s capital. A lot remains to be done in the energy sector, as a great number of people either lack access to energy or deal with unreliable supply and high costs. In addition to the challenges with energy adequacy and access, there are visible issues with waste, pollution, housing and transport, with traffic jams clogging the main roads on a daily basis. For example, last Friday a few hours of heavy rain resulted in flooding streets and long power outages.

Despite the prominent challenges that the rapidly growing city has, my first impression of Nairobi has been very positive, especially due to its warm-hearted, joyful and friendly people. My local officemates have also made a good effort in turning me into a Nairobian by teaching me Swahili, making sure I try all the traditional Kenyan dishes and inviting me on their Saturday hike to one of the nearby national parks. Overall, Nairobi is an incredibly diverse and lively city with a lot to experience. After some initial confusion, things here flow smoothly and it’s easy to feel at home in this beautifully chaotic city.

The writer, Erika Forstén, is a master’s student in the Advanced Energy Solutions programme at Aalto University. As part of the New Global team, she is working on her master’s thesis about urban energy transitions in emerging markets, looking at Nairobi as a case study.