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Exploring the Future of Electricity in Africa: Spotlight on Dr Rebekah Shirley, Visiting Research Fellow

Dr Rebekah Shirley presenting her research projects at a Research Brown Bag Session on 11th June at Strathmore University

Dr Rebekah Shirley is the Director of Research at Power for All. Armed with a PhD in Energy and Resources from the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley), she has set out to understand the future of energy, especially in the developing world. She currently focuses heavily on the opportunities for novel energy access solutions in East Africa.

Since August 2017, Rebekah has been a Visiting Research Fellow at Strathmore University’s Energy Research Centre (SERC). Her stay at the centre has seen her carry out research to understand the role of small-scale renewable energy technologies in delivering electricity across rural Africa.

Her energy analytics and power system simulation expertise have been a tremendous addition to SERC, helping the centre advance its research portfolio and engage the public more through science communication and thought leadership.

She has also brought visibility to the research on electrification being done in East Africa, and the data gaps that need further examination. For her work, she was named Africa Utility Week’s Energy Outstanding Young Leader in Energy 2018, and featured by ESI Africa as a 2019 Power and Energy Elite Personality to watch.

Since her arrival at SERC, she has written a lot in the mass media about renewable energy in Africa. A three-part series on the present and future of the utility landscape in sub-Saharan Africa, which she published in Greentech Media, a popular media house, is an apt example.

The first part of the series explored how deregulation could improve the grid reliability of African utilities. The second part examined the paradox of urban energy poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa, where very many unserved potential customers sit directly under the grid. And the third part looked into opportunities for the power sector in Sub-Saharan Africa through new and innovative distribution models. As a whole, the series was read by over 40,000 people.

Her writing has been featured on many other platforms, including the World Economic Forum, where she wrote about the market for electric vehicles in Kenya. She has also published a more detailed article on “under the grid” communities with specific focus on Kenya in the Conversation, an international media platform for scholars. This article garnered over 20,000 reads, mostly from South Africa and Kenya, and spurred numerous interview requests.

Apart from writing in popular media, Dr Shirley also led SERC to organise the first-ever joint energy access research conference between UC Berkeley and Strathmore University. The inaugural edition of the biannual UC Berkeley-SERC research workshop, which took place in July 2018, was well-attended by many government, regulatory and industry representatives.

Two months later, she also moderated an expert panel on digital technologies of the future on behalf of Strathmore University at Future Energy East Africa, the premier energy conference in Nairobi.

Rebekah is working with SERC to conduct the first-ever census on energy access jobs for Africa – starting in Kenya and Nigeria, to understand the skills gaps that should be addressed to develop a strong energy workforce for the continent.

This research is the foundation of Power for All’s #PoweringJobs campaign, which is funded by the Schneider Electric Foundation and Rockefeller Foundation to raise awareness of the relationships between energy access and jobs creation.

The results of the project will be published in July 2019. It has the potential to directly influence the design of training programmes at Strathmore University and other higher-education institutions across Kenya to prepare students for the energy access industry jobs market.

To cap it all off, Dr Shirley is also a mentor to undergraduate students at Strathmore University through the Career Services Internship programme, engaging them in early-stage research and supporting them in career development.


This article was written by Mathew Otieno, Office of the DVC Research and Innovation.


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