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Kassahun Y. Kebede

Technology cluster: An approach for enhancing diffusion of renewable energy technologies in a rural community

Recently, I have been conducting a baseline survey of a renewable energy technology adoption in Ethiopia. Upon a visit to a rural community, one of the villagers mentioned that he was informed by a promoter about the benefits of having biogas technology. He recalled that an ear-catching benefit mentioned for him was the lighting application of the technology. He assumed that it was a perfect solution for the lighting problem he had faced, mainly addressing the overnight study request of his children. The cooking application was  secondary to him as he knew that firewood  and dung were abundant in the vicinity and the benefit of biogas for cooking was just a plus for him. Later, he discontinued the use of bio-digester and dropped feeding the bio-digester when he found a much cheaper and 'less effort demanding' alternative solution for his lighting problem. He purchased and adopted solar home system. In fact, he had purchased lantern first and then a larger home system, later,  for a wider use.  Upon prolonged promotion by the local energy offices, he now wants to go back to the biogas, but this time, mainly for the cooking and bio-slurry (fertilizer) use.

It was just an emblematic example that promotion strategies and creating awareness among the rural households regarding renewables matter a lot. Wrong promotion and lack of awareness are impediments for adoption of off-grid solutions in the rural community. Often, it is taken for granted that the users know the technology benefits immediately after the first promotion efforts.

Moreover, it is not worth promoting or supplying lighting technology while the community's priority is cooking technology or vice versa. And more importantly, there is a need to be strategic in promoting two 'competing' or 'complementing' technologies. In fact, in many cases, double efforts have been exerted in developing countries such as in Ethiopia while promoting technologies like solar and biogas. Solar home system may not be a solution for cooking but complementing it with bio-digester technology can satisfy at least the basic rural energy needs of a household.

A better approach recommended in promoting and enhancing the diffusion of such technologies in the rural community is to use technology clustering.  As suggested  by  Rogers (2003), technology cluster "consists of one or more distinguishable elements of technology that are perceived as being closely interrelated" and  "it is an assemblage of interdependent innovations that diffuse in social systems at or around the same time".  A rural community is very much familiar with the idea and benefit of technology cluster (package) such as in the Agriculture sector: new farming technology, improved seeds and fertilizer as a package (cluster). Promoting both lighting and cooking technologies (off-grid solutions) as  technology cluster can facilitate the adoption of renewables,  thereby reducing double promotion efforts and avoiding confusion among the potential users.  A promoter or anyone interested in addressing the rural energy demand can bundle or cluster technologies as a package and provide full-fledged solution for the community.

 

Reference:

  • Rogers, E.M. (2003), Diffusion of Innovations, 5th Ed.  Free Press, New York.

 

 

Kassahun Y. Kebede (PhD) is a researcher and consultant based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. He is also an Assistant Professor at Addis Ababa Institute of Technology, Addis Ababa University. He can be reached at afrinovationet@gmail.com.