Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder

CSTPR Noontime Seminar

Renewable Energy in Africa: Findings from the Social Sciences

by Kathleen Hancock
Colorado School of Mines

Abstract: Despite being blessed with energy resource abundance, sub-Saharan African states face numerous energy challenges, including low rates of access to electricity, decaying infrastructure, cook stoves that shorten lives, and reliance on wood that leads to deforestation. High rates of corruption, low levels of democracy, and geographically large states with primarily rural communities further complicate these challenges. Meanwhile, new oil and gas finds are enriching some states. However, developing these fields will increase greenhouse gas emissions, and there is substantial evidence that petroleum goes hand-in-hand with corruption, authoritarianism, gender and economic inequality, the so-called “resource curse.” As a result, many political leaders and communities favor growth through renewable energy rather than fossil fuels. With this in mind, social scientists have turned their attention to figuring out which programs work, and which do not, thus enabling Africa to leapfrog petroleum-fueled growth and go straight to clean energy-fueled growth. In this talk, I summarize some of the major findings from research in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, Zambia, and the West African region. Research topics include mini-grids, solar energy centers, gender and energy, the role of PhD programs in Africa, carbon finance, and mega hydroelectric dams. While the findings come from research in and on Africa, many of the lessons apply more broadly. The talk concludes with a discussion of opportunities for further research and overcoming research challenges in the field.

Kathleen J. Hancock (PhD, University of California, San Diego) is Associate Professor at the Colorado School of Mines, where she is the Director of the soon-to-be launched Global, Energy, and Policy Studies Program and of the Masters program on natural resources policy and the co-Director of the Energy Minor. Her current book project develops a theory on the politics of renewable energy, with case studies on Germany, Brazil, South Africa, and the state of Colorado. She is co-editing the first Oxford Handbook on Energy Politics. Her recently published work focuses on the intersection of regionalism and energy issues, particularly renewable energy in Africa. She is the editor of and contributor to a 2015 special issue on renewable energy in Africa, published in the journal Energy Research & Social Science. She has papers under review and working papers on the regional electricity grid and markets in West Africa, the potential “curse” of hydroelectric dams, and the political foundations of the ECOWAS Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency Center. Before working on Africa and renewable energy, Dr. Hancock analyzed regionalism in Eurasia. In her book Regional Integration: Choosing Plutocracy, she develops a theory on how great powers economically integrate the states in their regions. She has published articles in journals such as International Studies Perspective, Foreign Policy Analysis, Asian Perspective, and China and Eurasia Forum and book chapters on energy security in the developing world, Eurasian economic integration, and African economic trade. In 2015-16, she was a senior scholar at the Free University-Berlin. Her work has been funded by the German foundation Fritz Thyssen Stiftung, International Studies Association, Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation/MacArthur Fellowship, the Institute for International Education, and the Institute for Security and Development Policy. She is on the editorial board for Energy Research & Social Science; coordinates an international group of scholars and practitioners working on the international political economy of resources and energy; and has been the principal investigator for five workshops on the international political economy of energy and natural resources. She has also published on gender issues the international relations discipline and is working with colleague on gender and scholarship in the computer science field. Prior to earning her PhD, Dr. Hancock worked in Washington, DC for 10 years during which time she earned a Masters in Science, Technology, and Public Policy, was a lobbyist for the Federation of American Scientists, and was a senior analyst with the Government Accountability Office in the National Security and International Affairs Division.


Wednesday, April 12, 2017
2017 - 12:00 to 13:00




  • CIRES employees
  • CU Boulder employees
  • General Public
  • NOAA employees
  • Science collaborators


  • Seminar
  • Open to Public


CSTPR Conference Room