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Sustainable Energy Transitions Initiative

Collaborative energy program

The Sustainable Energy Transitions Initiative (SETI) is an interdisciplinary global collaborative that aims to foster research on energy access and energy transitions in low and middle-income countries, and to better understand their impacts on health, social outcomes, economic growth, climate change and natural resources.

Energy has been called the golden thread because it provides a very important mechanism to reduce poverty, improve health, protect the environment and both adapt to and mitigate the effects of global climate change. As several global initiatives (SE4All, EnvDev) and the proposed SDG (#7) imply, deliberate policy and community action is justified because of very serious efficiency issues (truly scare inputs are being squandered) and equity concerns, as evidenced by energy poverty that hinders development opportunities. Energy poverty in the global south is a particular challenge for current and future generations: There is a systematic under-representation of science and evidence on its implications, and therefore on policies that can successfully address energy challenges in the global south – e.g., rural electrification, modern transportation, mechanized agriculture, and especially improved cooking, heating, lighting. We aim to address knowledge gaps by emphasizing social science contributions and the need for interdisciplinarity given the well-documented bias towards engineering, science, public health. We also aim to foster scholarship by researchers from the global south whose perspectives are grounded by the reality of energy and development challenges.

The Environment for Development program, in close collaboration with the Duke Household Energy & Health Initiative were well placed to form a global consortium to address this fundamental science-policy gap. We have designed deliberate and proactive steps including stock taking, laying the foundation for a self-organizing action research process, and continuing to engage key decision makers. 

Key research themes include:

  • Lack of access to electricity and other modern fuels;
  • Drivers of energy transitions in low- and middle-income contexts, including lessons learned from past experiences;
  • Impacts of energy transition on health, labor, forests, regional air quality, and global climate;
  • Gaps in the relevant research, including the growing importance of renewable energy technologies;
  • How future research efforts may be coordinated in ways that are policy-relevant.

This program is co-led by Subhrendu Pattanayak and Marc Jeuland, Professor and Associate Professor of Environmental Sciences and Policy at the Sanford School of Public Policy.

An inception workshop for the program was held in Ethiopia on June 1st to 3rd, 2015. More information on this workshop can be found here.

SETI held its kick-off workshop at Duke in April 2016, in a gathering that brought together researchers working on energy issues in several dozen countries. The workshop focused on the state of household energy transitions and access to electricity and other modern fuels. Some of the key themes that emerged from the workshop were the importance of understanding heterogeneity in household behavior, the mechanisms driving behaviour and the role of institutions.

The second annual SETI conference was held at Duke University in May 2017. In addition to research sessions (including on adoption of improved energy technologies, impacts of grid electrification, and policies that drive the global energy transition), this year’s meeting featured a daylong practitioner workshop. This effort enhanced the dialogue between the academic and the policy communities, with the goal of informing both evidence-based practice as well as policy-relevant scholarship. SETI thanks the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) through the Environment for Development Network, and the Project on Access & Transitions to Sustainable Energy at Duke for their sponsorship of this event.