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Energy Poverty in Urban Africa – A Case Study of the Energy Needs of the Urban Poor in Lagos and Ibadan, Nigeria

Imperial College London
Date: 2007


Africa, like many parts of the developing world, is undergoing rapid urbanisation. As cities grow, their energy needs increase, but many of the urban poor remain without access to energy infrastructures. Previous studies of development have indicated that wider energy provision is associated with improved socioeconomic inclusion. Nigeria exemplifies some of the key issues facing African nations, namely, a rapidly growing population, a large gulf between rich and poor sections of the population, an unstable energy supply and weak infrastructure.  

Key research Question

The research set out to understand the factors that shape energy needs and use among urban poor households within the wider context of the energy sector in two Nigerian cities, Lagos and Ibadan. This research investigated whether lessons could be learned about how to implement sustainable energy policies and technology that would provide wider social inclusion for poorer homes. 

Summary of activity

The research first involved a literature review on urban poverty, energy use, energy infrastructure and related policy in sub-Saharan Africa, with a particular focus on Nigeria. Qualitative data were collected through semi-structured interviews with two managers working in the energy industry. In addition, 80 urban poor households (40 each in Lagos and Ibadan) completed a survey.  


Most survey respondents were connected to the electricity grid, but just as many used kerosene as a supplementary household fuel, with over half of them possessing diesel and/or petrol generators. Wood or charcoal was used by a significant minority. Those on the lowest incomes were more likely to use wood and/or charcoal, kerosene, candles or batteries, and peri-urban dwellers were less likely to be connected to the grid. Interruptions to the electricity supply, non-transparent and unfair billing and the absence of meters were all motivating factors for choosing these heating options.  

The survey responses indicated very low levels of confidence in the ability of either the government or the private sector. While significant policies have been developed around key issues such as renewables and fuel poverty, their actual implementation remains limited, and there is little coordination between government sectors with a stake in the subject. 

The interviews stressed that Nigeria has significant prospects in terms of developing a renewable/sustainable energy sector, but there is a need for much greater private sector investment. 


  • In terms of energy infrastructure, the installation of meters in each household would make energy use visible and suppliers accountable. 

  • Technical research must be supported, particularly with regard to renewables.  

  • Financial resources should be targeted at local energy projects, including microgeneration. International aid and/or private sector funds may form part of this. Monetary and technical support should be provided to state and local governments to build their capacity. In addition, funds should be made available to offer poor households credit or subsidies towards their bills and/or equipment. 

  • Political ‘buy-in’ is essential to turn policy commitments into action. A strategic approach should be adopted that considers energy supply, housing and urban development/regeneration together, but also regards fuel poverty as an element of wider poverty alleviation programmes. Where urban development is occurring, consideration must be given to how a sustainable energy supply can be factored in.  

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