Bassem Khalifa, MEM

2012 TRI Fellow in Kenya

Ethnography of Knowledge Production and Transfer in Developing Renewable Energy Technology in Kenya's Informal Sector


In areas where there is limited access to electricity, off-grid renewable energy systems are considered a promising approach to improving livelihoods. However, there have historically been a number of obstacles, including the reliance on expensive imported technology and the lack of domestic technical know-how for installation and maintenance. access:energy  has been pursuing the potential for Kenya's informal manufacturing sector (Jua Kali) to produce and distribute micro-wind turbines using locally available components. 

The purpose of this research is to investigate the discursive, social, and material aspects of the production and transfer of technical knowledge in the area of small-scale informal sector manufacture of renewable energy technology in Kenya. I spent considerable time in participant-observation ethnographic research with the access:energy team. I conducted interviews with almost all of the team, including summer interns. I was also able to interview a number of other individuals active in the technology innovation and technology-for-development spheres. In the upcoming couple of months I hope to analyze this material as well as access:energy’s documentation in hopes of identifying criteria and conditions that facilitate the design, production and dissemination of technology in a development context. 

Key Words: renewable energy, technology, development, electricity, wind, Kenya