Archives de catégorie : énergie

Sustainable urbanization in the Gulf?

This short article was published in World Energy #42 April 2019

Eric Verdeil

Since 1987 and the release of the Bruntland Report about Sustainable Development, concerns over climate change, biodiversity and other global threats have grown. Urbanization is at the core of global anxiety. Urban population, as recorded by the UN, now reaches 4.2 billion, ie 55% of the total and is expected to grow by 2,5 billion in 2050. This tremendous growth consumes huge level of resources and emits about 75% of world Green house gases. Cities are a major factor of unsustainability, and the same time cities and urban dwellers increasingly suffer from global environmental changes. Gulf cities are no exception. Record breaking temperatures in Kuwait in 2016 highlighted the unbearable summer heats Gulf cities are facing and will have to cope with. Sea-level rise or extreme rainy events also might affect the future of cities in this region.

At the same time, governments, international organizations and urban authorities also insist that if cities are both the cause and the victims of global threats, they can also be the solution. Hence, cities have to be the place for implementing solutions, and policies have to be designed at the level of cities. The goals of these policies must be on the one side to reduce the urban environmental footprint and on the other side to address the resilience of cities. The New Urban Agenda adopted in Quito in 2016 underscored the necessity to understand sustainability as two-faceted: environmental preservation must go hand in hand with social inclusiveness.

Masdar City

How have Arab Cities and governments stepped into these directions? The continuous urban growth in this region of the world, in the face of harsh climatic conditions, has historically been made possible only through an extravagant use of cheap and widely available energy. To date, urban forms and consumption patterns are clearly at odds with sustainable practices. Until recently there were few signs of ecological concerns in this part of the world. Arab Cities are not very present in Cities networks that are at the forefront of environmental transition. For instance, the C40 Cities Climate Change Leadership Group include only three Arab Cities: Cairo, Amman and Dubai. Out of more than 1500 members, the local Governments for Sustainability Network includes only 10 from the Middle East and North Africa, five of them from Turkey. Despite this low profile in international arenas, Gulf governments loudly and glitteringly advertise their commitment to sustainable urban agendas. In the last ten years, governments have actively promoted projects and plans staging their will to implement sustainable strategies. However their motivations are complex and, in addition, achievements, also impressive, have objective limitations and should not hide contradictory trends.

Masdar City represents the first and to date, the most telling expression of urban sustainability ambitions. The famous carbon-neutral city in the suburb of Abu Dhabi, designed by Norman Foster, was launched in 2008. It uses brand new technologies in building design, energy management, renewable energy, water and waste management, as well as innovative transportation technologies. It is intended to become first a lab, and then a model for future urbanism in the region and beyond. The project became indeed a showroom, as Abu Dhabi also managed to attract the headquarters of the International Renewable Agency and to develop spectacular solar projects connected to the neighborhood. As cities in the Gulf region compete against each other in order to attract investments, governments have designed projects that emulate Abi Dhabi vision. This is for instance the case with the Saudi new towns of King Abdullah Economic Cities and above all, the latest Neom. In Dubai, several initiatives also express the will to compete with Masdar City, for instance the recent Sustainable City megaproject.

These urban projects are increasingly integrated into wider strategies aiming at developing renewable energy, as well as energy and natural resources efficiency schemes. All governments in this region have set up targets for RE production and regularly upgrade them. The UAE target 27% clean energy capacity in 2021. Saudi Arabia targets 10% RE capacity in 2023 and 30% in 2030. The continuous decrease of KWh price for solar technologies, both CSP and PV, as shown in the latest bids in Dubai and Saudi Arabia, renders these targets with reach. At the end 2018, the share of renewable energy has more than quadrupled in four years, from 210 MW in 2014 to 867 MW. But it amounts to less than 1% of electricity capacity..

Governments have also adopted ambitious schemes for energy efficiency. Green building councils have been established in almost every country in the region, which have adapted international standards for energy saving norms, such as LEED, to the local conditions, such as the Pearl rating system in Abu Dhabi. Gulf states have also begun to roll back costly subsidies to fossil fuel, electricity and water. Several cities are also building massive public transportation schemes. Dubai has been a pioneer, and now runs two metro lines. Similar projects are under construction in Riyadh, while Abu Dhabi plans its own system. But these transportation means will at least in the short term mostly serve the foreign population and not the nationals, who preferably use individual cars. Plans for electrifying the automobile system are now actively prepared but they request huge additional generation capacities, and a complete revamping of the energy distribution system.

Nevertheless, there are several differences in the narratives local authorities in this region use to justify they commitment to sustainable urbanization. In contrast to most world cities active in promoting ecological transition strategies, climate change concerns are not prominent in the governments’ discourses. The clearest element justifying the move is the necessity to prepare their economies for a post oil future. Economic diversification away from fossil energy is necessary. Clean techs and real estate stand at the core of the new green capitalism that unfolds. In this respect, sustainable urbanization appears not as a response to global threats but rather as a concern for the political stability of the countries and a new direction for economies. Abu Dhabi has taken the lead in this orientation with Masdar and other related plans. Indeed, Masdar is not only a local project but a company active in the field of renewable energy, also investing abroad and aiming at replicating its technological innovations in other contexts. Prince Mohamed Ben Salman’s Saudi 2030 plans very openly seeks to emulate his rivals’ from the Persian Gulf shore.

In the short term, fiscal pressures added up more justification for this long term goal of diversifying the economy. With the slump down of oil on international markets in 2014, most oil-based economies in the region have experienced fiscal tensions because oil revenues did not cover social expenses anymore. This affected very strongly the more populated states of Saudi Arabia or Oman where social demands are more heavily felt. Fiscal pressures played as a determinant factor in reforming electricity, fuel and water prices, which have been enforced in the last four years.

Having stated the high ambitious Gulf governments express and their original motivations, it is nevertheless necessary to underscore the limitations of those schemes. Four points come to mind:

The vulnerability of these urban sustainable projects/markets to real estate cycles remains high. The real estate crisis of 2008-09 administered a blow to Masdar City and highlighted some of the weaknesses of this kind of projects. It was downsized and reprofiled as a more classical real estate project. New developments remain well below the initially foreseen pace. The project did not fulfill its ambitious technological promises, even if the achievements already represent a strong departure from ordinary planning practices in the region. It is far from being carban-neutral even if renewable energy and energy savings allow for about 50% reduction in energy demand. Clearly, other sustainable megaprojects also depend upon foreign investments and stand at risk of similar real estate ups and downs. For instance, the delayed achievements of KAEC or Neom in Saudi Arabia illustrate their difficulty in convincing foreign investors and the fierce competition between these cities and projects, where returns are not determined only by technological advancements but also by political conditions.

This highlights the political nature of arrangements regulating access to infrastructure and resources in cities of this region and hence a certain level of uncertainties regarding the capacity of local governments to maintain the direction in the face of contradictory demands. For years, political legitimacy of the regimes in this part of the world has been linked to the provision of modern infrastructural services at cheap, in not free, price. As explained above, under fiscal pressures, governments have recently slashed subsidies for fuel, water or electricity. This effort needs to been pursued and expanded. Until now, no major protests have erupted over this issue, which however remains sensitive. Beyond that, urbanism remains car-centric and based on individual housing for nationals. This kind of urbanization, despite all improvements and the increasing capacity of renewable energy, remain unsustainable in the long run in terms of resource consumption (land, energy and water). The shortage of available land while demand remain strong creates political tensions, as already observed in Kuwait. As stated by researcher Sharifa Alshalfan, because of the “limits on development including access to land and infrastructure, supply struggled to meet the rising demand. In 2015, the Public Authority for Housing Welfare had over 106,000 applications on the waitlist for housing, yet from the start of the housing programme in 1954 and until 2015, the state was only able to provide 114,600 units. For the state to fulfil the current demand, it would need to develop almost the same amount of housing units it had provided over the past sixty years”. The sprawl of the low dense Kuwait City [MS1] connected by hundreds of kilometers of highways, creates huge traffic congestion.

Another dimension of sustainability pertains to the huge degradation of local environment around the big cities of the region. The extensive transformation of the shoreline in the Emirates as well as in Saudi Arabia has deeply devastated the local ecosystems, for instance the mangroves areas, also hurt by oil spills[S2] . The massive production of desalinated water produce as well very negative environmental outcomes. Most of the Persian Gulf desalination plants currently use thermal technology, which requires much more energy than osmose reverse technology, and also emits a lot of GHG. In any case, for every liter of fresh water, 1,5 liter of brine (and various chemical particles) is discharged into nearby water, destructing sea life because the increase of salinity (+10-15 ppm) and of higher water temperature. The introduction of the newly improved reverse osmose technology fueled by renewable solar energy, will gradually improve this dire situation, as the new Taweela unit installed by Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority exhibits.

The higher share of renewable energy, the improvement of energy intensity and of water use do not mean that the use of resources will decrease in the future. Currently, a city like Dubai emits three times more GHG per capita than New York City. On average, GCC countries exhibit levels of carbon emissions per GDP unit much higher than the world average and beyond East Asian and North American competitors. This is even stronger when considering per capita average. Future trends anticipate increase in carbon intensity, from 6,96 cubic meter of carbon per capita in 2016 for the MENA region toward 7,5 in 2030 while world average would remain below 5.

The continuous growth of population and urban surfaces in the coming years means that the ecological footprint will continue to rise, even if at a reduced pace. Stricto sensu, urban sustainability in the Gulf remains an elusive promise.

Electricity Subsidies: Benefiting some Regions More than Others – analysis featured on the LCPS website

EDL headquarters in Beirut

I am happy to announce the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies has featured my analysis about electricity subsidies in Lebanon on its website.

While the recent political showdown over where to connect the Esra Gul barge to Lebanon’s power grid is indicative of the country’s unequal electricity supply, it also unearthed something more fundamental, namely, how electricity subsidies exacerbate geographical and social inequalities. Indeed, one major problem facing Electricité Du Liban (EDL) concerns the fact that production costs exceed revenues from consumers. For many years, the difference has been covered/subsidized by the state but these subsidies impact citizens differently depending on where they reside.

More precisely, because the periphery have access to a smaller supply of electricity per day, they incur greater generator use costs than those living in the central agglomeration, particularly   municipal Beirut. Consequently, my recent study demonstrates that effective subsidies disproportionately benefit wealthier households and in particular those who live in Beirut, as the latter are supplied with more power on a daily basis compared to other regions.[1] Therefore, electricity subsidies exacerbate both geographical and social inequalities.

While the production cost of electricity—indexed to the international hydrocarbon market—has significantly increased since 1994, prices have not been reevaluated in that period. According to the National Electricity Strategy Plan of 2010, the price represented on average only 55% of the production cost per kilowatt hour. While the price structure should reflect a principle of fairness and employ progressive rates designed to ease the burden for small consumers—among whom are the country’s poorest people—a 2009 World Bank study reported the opposite. In fact, fixed costs added onto an EDL bill resulted in small consumers (who use up to 300 kilowatt hours) paying disproportionately more of their income toward energy bills than larger users. Practically, the more they consume, the more users are subsidized by the state. This is not an open and deliberate subsidy, but rather a largely unseen mechanism at work.

In fact, the study highlights geographic variances that result from the length of time that power is supplied. This adds an essential component to the distortion caused by this effective subsidy. Since 2006­-2007, Beirut has received on average nineteen to twenty-one hours of electricity per day, while other regions have received only twelve to fifteen hours if not less (depending on the time of year and in which year data was gathered). The capital’s residents use more public electricity by default and consequently benefit more from subsidies.


Read the end of the article on the LCPS website.

A French longer version, including the detailed data, is to be read on this blog.

Publication récente (1) : Energy Transition and Urban Governance in the Arab World

Masdar City

J’ai le plaisir d’annoncer la parution de cette communication lors du colloque Wise Cities in the Mediterranean organisée par la Kuwait Program de Sciences Po, dont les actes peuvent être lus en ligne ici. Voici le résumé de ma communication:

The 2015 Paris Agreement and the recent Quito New Urban Agenda both emphasised the need to empower cities in climate change policies, including energy policies that aim at energy transitions towards more energy efficiency and the use of renewable energies. Being both factors in and potential victims of climate change, cities have many reasons to act. Therefore, there is a need to examine how changes in urban governance could indeed address this necessity and the challenge cities have to face. This issue has been addressed in many studies and plans for cities in the Western and advanced industrial world. These first studies have highlighted several results. Firstly, instead of considering only climate change issues, they stressed the need to understand ecological pressures more widely, particularly the way global energy pressures, like peak oil threats or price increases have created energy stress for cities. Secondly, they also underlined how privatisation trends and the ascent of transnational energy firms reconfigured energy regulation by sidelining public energy utilities and companies. Thirdly, metropolisation, the concentration of wealth and power in the big metropolises, transforms urban governance. The role of states in energy regulation is thus undermined and metropolitan coalitions are more diverse and open to private and as well as local urban interests. Green growth becomes a new market for private firms, and metropolitan governments compete for jobs and investments in the sector. At the same time, ensuring the continuity of energy supply or of other infrastructure is another goal for metropolitan firms and authorities. This leads to new agendas, including local policies of energy transition, which combine the promotion of renewable energies and energy efficiency with the shortening of energy circuits. However, several factors that are favouring these changes in energy governance seem to be specific to world cities and might not apply in other contexts. The increasing – albeit contested – political autonomisation of such cities in their relation to national states and their specific wealth are cases in point. My goal in this chapter is to look at Arab cities, for which, at a first glance, energy transition initiatives seem difficult to identify. My chapter draws on a wide collective analysis of urban energy transition policies in ten metropolises from emerging economies, including several Arab cities such as Amman, Beirut, Tunis and Sfax (Jaglin and Verdeil, 2017; Verdeil et al., 2015; Verdeil, 2014a; 2016; forthcoming), and on secondary literature about the United Arab Emirates. It aims to propose some preliminary observations and to raise questions to fuel the upcoming debate. I will not present case studies but rather identify policy issues and policy options that vary greatly according to context and, above all, according to the national availability of fossil energy such as oil and gas and the social contracts that govern the redistribution of this wealth in exchange for loyalty.

Continuer la lecture

Subventions électriques invisibles: le privilège beyrouthin

Le Liban se classe parmi les pires pays du monde en termes de fourniture électrique [1]. L’insuffisance de la production électrique se traduit par un rationnement qui atteint plus de 12 h /j dans une large partie du pays. Cette situation date de la guerre civile. Après une période d’amélioration grâce aux investissements dans de nouvelles centrales électriques et dans le réseau des années 1990, la situation s’est de nouveau dégradée à partir de 2006. Malgré le plan du ministre Gebran Bassil en 2010, peu d’améliorations ont été apportées, les investissements réalisés et les nouvelles capacités mises en ligne (en 2017) ne compensant pas l’augmentation de la demande, qui n’est satisfaite que grâce au développement de la génération privée.

Les dysfonctionnements du secteur électrique libanais pèsent lourdement sur les ménages et les agents économiques. De plus, l’électricité est la première source du déficit public libanais. Elle représentait en 2013 40% de la dette publique cumulée et 55% du déficit budgétaire. Le déficit s’explique par diverses raisons. La mauvaise gestion technique et commerciale de l’entreprise est une première explication des pertes: les pertes techniques se montent à environ 15%, les pertes non techniques atteignant elles 25%. 40% de l’énergie produite n’est donc pas payée. Toutefois, il faut aussi mentionner la structure du tarif de l’électricité qui ne reflète pas ses couts de revient. En effet, le tarif moyen par KWh est de 141 LL en 2007, alors que le cout de production est estimé à 255 LL/KWh en 2009. Autrement dit, en moyenne, l’abonné ne paye que 55% du cout de revient. Ce désajustement du tarif par rapport aux couts explique donc aussi une partie importante du déficit de l’entreprise.

Les discussions publiques se focalisent, ces dernières années, sur la construction de nouvelles capacités de production pour mettre fin au rationnement, et sur les modalités de financement de ces investissements : faut-il investir de l’argent public, et où le trouver? ou mettre à contribution le secteur privé, mais alors à quelles conditions? Dans la période précédente, la problématique du vol et de la fraude était aussi fortement mise en avant[2]. Ces débats laissent largement de côté la question de la tarification. Le gouvernement considère que le réajustement ne pourrait intervenir qu’une fois l’amélioration du système bien amorcée, rendant une hausse de tarif plus acceptable. En attendant, le désajustement du tarif constitue une subvention de facto, dont les effets ont rarement été examiné.

Comme dans de nombreux pays en développement, la tarification d’EDL est en marches d’escalier, chaque palier (ou bloc) de consommation étant facturé à un certain prix, dans un objectif d’équité sociale. Toutefois, seule la tranche au-delà de 500 kWH est facturée à un prix supérieur au prix de revient, alors qu’elle ne représente qu’une petite fraction de la consommation[3]. A cette tarification variable s’ajoute une partie fixe et des taxes. Les études de la Banque Mondiale (2009) ont mis en évidence qu’en réalité, cette tarification n’était pas progressive car le poids des charges fixes pèse très lourdement sur les ménages qui consomment peu.

Dans cette note, j’examine une autre distorsion, spatiale, liée à cette tarification. Le Liban se caractérise en effet par des inégalités géographiques dans les dotations en courant. Beyrouth, la capitale, reçoit une dotation en courant nettement plus longue que les autres régions. En moyenne, elle ne subit que 3 à 4 h de coupures, les autres régions recevant moins de 15h, parfois moins. Cette distorsion n’est pas seulement de nature géographique mais aussi sociale : en effet les résidents de Beyrouth sont en moyenne d’un niveau socio-économique plus élevé. Plus riches, plus équipés, mieux dotés en électricité, ils consomment davantage. Or, étant donné la structure des tarifs, plus ils consomment, plus ils coûtent à l’EDL. Le raisonnement est connu et parfois mentionné. En revanche, à ma connaissance il n’a jamais été estimé précisément. Je propose ici d’essayer de caractériser cette distorsion. Continuer la lecture

Lancement du programme de recherche Hybridelec

Beyrouth, Achrafieh : ensemble de générateurs formant une véritable petite centrale électrique au cœur d’un quartier résidentiel de la capitale (mai 2017)

J’ai le plaisir d’annoncer le lancement d’Hybridelec, que je dirige avec l’appui de Sylvy Jaglin. Il s’agit d’une nouvelle recherche? financée par l’ANR (Défi 2 consacré à l’énergie). Elle est consacrée à l’hybridation des systèmes électriques dans les villes des pays en développement et émergents. Celles-ci connaissent de lourds problèmes de fourniture en électricité que les réponses conventionnelles telles que l’extension du réseau ne parviennent pas à résoudre. C’est pourquoi on assiste au développement de solutions alternatives, individuelles ou collectives, tels que des réseaux décentralisés et hybrides. Appliquant le concept d’hybridation aux études socio-techniques, la recherche propose d’étudier ces nouvelles configurations, qui restent mal connues, et leurs impacts sur le futur du système électrique. D’une durée de 4 ans, la recherche étudiera empiriquement ces systèmes (par enquête auprès des acteurs du marché et analyse des pratiques de régulation) et examinera leur impact sur les conceptions usuelles de la transition énergétique.

L’équipe regroupe des chercheurs du CERI-Sciences Po, du LATTS-Université de Marne-la-Vallée et de PRODIG-Université Paris I/CNRS/IRD. Les terrains seront situés en Afrique subsahariene (Mali, Nigérias, Tchad, Burkina-Faso, Tanzanie, Afrique du Sud, et peut d’autres), en Asie du Sud (Inde et Pakistan) et au Moyen Orient (Liban). Nous avons prévu de recruter prochainement un postdoc pour travailler en Inde et un doctorant pour travailler au Liban.

Un carnet accompagnera le développement de cette recherche, que je vous invite à consulter dès maintenant.

Pour les lecteurs de ce blog, précisons que cette recherche prolonge les recherches entreprises au Liban depuis plusieurs années sur la gestion de la pénurie électrique grâce notamment aux générateurs (voir en particulier ces références: Verdeil 2009, Gabillet 2010, Verdeil 2016). Elle s’inscrit par ailleurs dans le prolongement d’une collective précédente, coordonnée par Sylvy Jaglin, TERMOS (Trajectoires énergétiques des métropoles du Sud) dont des résultats détaillés ont été publiés dans la revue Flux en 2013 (voir l’introduction du dossier et une version en anglais).

PhD Position on Eastern Mediterranean oil and gas discoveries, regional geopolitics and economic development issues (part of the SALGIANT project)

Update: this call has been extended until the 21th september 2018. Look at the new call on this link or here.

I am pleased to announce the launch of the SALGIANT network and more specifically the research task Eastern Mediterranean oil and gas discoveries, regional geopolitics and economic development issues, which involves the recruitment of a young research for a PhD related to this issue, under my supervision.

SALTGIANT is a rare cross-disciplinary network of natural and social scientists dedicated to understanding the formation of the Mediterranean Salt Giant, one of the largest salt deposits on Earth, and its implications for sub-seafloor microbial life, risk assessment in the oil industry, geo-economics of the Mediterranean region and the history of oceanography.

source: (Credit: Lofi et al. Seismic atlas 2, in prep.)

source: (Credit: Lofi et al. Seismic atlas 2, in prep.)

Continuer la lecture

Compte rendu de Beyond the Networked City: Infrastructure Reconfigurations and Urban Change in the North and South, livré dirigé par Olivier Coutard et Jonathan Rutherford

Ma recension du livre Beyond the Networked City: Infrastructure Reconfigurations and Urban Change in the North and South dirigé par Olivier Coutard et Jonathan Rutherford vient d’être publiée. Référence complète:

Verdeil, Eric. 2017. ‘Oliver Coutard and Jonathan Rutherford (Eds.) 2016: Beyond the Networked City: Infrastructure Reconfigurations and Urban Change in the North and South. London: Routledge’. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 41 (6):1031–32.

This collection comprises eleven chapters exploring the post-network city hypothesis. Editors Olivier Coutard and Jonathan Rutherford––both from LATTS, a research unit at Paris-Est University––began developing this idea a decade or so ago. The book represents a collective, sometimes contradictory, effort to explore and discuss the scope of a set of interrelated transformations affecting infrastructure and cities. All the chapters seek to challenge the domination of the network as a material infrastructure, an ideology and the object of political economy. According to the editors, the currently observed changes helping to define the post-networked city comprise ‘a shift from … homogeneity’ to ‘diversity (and targeted selectivity) of infrastructural spaces; reconfigurations and rescalings in the “spaces of solidarity” … (large scale solidarities are recombining with forms of local “autonomy”); socio-spatial solidarity increasingly based on the division of resources …; a shift from collective to more individualised or diversified practices, norms and expectations’ (which leads to ‘customized infrastructure’); ‘the rise of new forms of individual and collective appropriation of infrastructure’; and ‘international and interurban circulation of models supporting these shifts’ (p. 7).

This research endeavor largely unfolds from debates initiated by the book Splintering Urbanism. Many authors who took part in those discussions, including Stephen Graham and Simon Marvin, feature in this book. The book comes back in a way to the interpretation of the causal link between the neoliberalization of infrastructure and urban fragmentation. The literature on global South cities highlights the fact that the modern infrastructural ideal was barely implemented in such cities and points instead to the prevailing infrastructural diversity. Research on urban environmental change and urban political ecology has also emphasized that the production of infrastructure is a strongly politically contested process which may result in unexpected changes in the way infrastructures are conceived and implemented, and in their urban impact. Specifically, environmental concerns for the preservation of resources and a more circular economy have garnered support in many cities. This, in turn, is believed to favor the advent of a post-network city.

A strength of the book is the wide diversity of case studies it uses to discuss this hypothesis. Regarding infrastructure, we find case studies on water supply, sanitation, waste collection and treatment, electricity and heat supply, as well as roads and (more surprisingly) volumetric urbanism (i.e. domes or––to use a phrase of Simon Marvin’s––‘domic ecologies’). Geographically, the case studies located in the global South (Vietnam, India, Brazil and Columbia, plus a broader review of sub-Saharan African cases) balance out those located in Europe (Paris, Berlin, Manchester, Birmingham and Aberdeen) and the US.

The main development emergent from the chapters is a shift from the post-network city hypothesis to what is encapsulated by the book’s title: ‘beyond the networked city’. ‘Shifting forms of infrastructure never consist of big, paradigm-busting transitions from one large technical network to another’ (p. 6), observe the editors. Instead, the authors depict incremental changes, small-scale adjustments and repairs, experiments and sometimes failures. The hypothesis helps us to properly address the diversity and coexistence of infrastructural systems that the chapters identify, illustrating the waning of exclusive belief in the network as the sole way to legitimately access urban services. In this respect, the experience of infrastructural diversity in the global South is very illuminating, at a time when many local authorities are beginning to recognize the contribution of non-networked solutions to resource delivery imagined by urban dwellers themselves. But what Sylvy Jaglin describes as ‘a pragmatic turn’ (that she identifies in African cities) doesn’t mean that the network disappears from the aspirations of urban dwellers and city officials.

This trend towards diversity of infrastructural systems is also evident in cities of the global North, albeit less strikingly so than in the global South. There is, for instance, the recent promotion of heating districts in the UK, or the rediscovery of the value of the non-potable water network in Paris. In the UK, as well as in Berlin, the promotion of shorter circuits connects two arguments: one that envisions energy decentralization as a democratic development empowering local actors; and one that sees these new circuits as more environmentally sound. This argument is to be found in the European case studies alone. These examples also demonstrate how misleading the notion of post-network can be, since all these infrastructural systems still rely on networks: some at a meso-scale (heating districts), others still at city scale (Paris, Berlin). Barles et al. even propose the notion of ‘the hyper-networked city’ to acknowledge this fact. Other chapters also point to the fact that these networks in fact exceed the scale of the city, rendering the study of ‘infrastructural hinterlands’ essential.

On a final note, the editors stress that ‘the socio-political significations of ongoing urban infrastructural transitions [are] fundamentally ambivalent’ (p. 21). In some cases, they seem to reinforce neoliberal trends and social polarization, while in others they are seen as serving progressive agendas. Taking the case of Mumbai, Graham et al. analyze hydropolitics as the expression of a ‘revanchist urbanism’ by urban elites targeting illegal, as well as legal but provisory, connections in slum areas. De-networking the poor is the counterpoint of strategies of infrastructural secession among the middle and upper classes, thanks to rainwater harvesting and grey-water recycling. Jaglin interprets the African ‘infrastructural pragmatic turn’ in less dramatic terms. For her, legalizing ‘hybrid delivery configurations [is] a way for African state authorities to negotiate the urban transition: a partial regularisation of the informal sector facilitates the provision of essential services, in exchange for a civil order that also benefits the urban elites and dominant classes’ (pp.193–4), because they are among the customers of the new hybrid infrastructures. Several chapters also highlight (in contrast to the trend towards privatization) the increased role for public authorities in dealing with and planning for more diverse infrastructural systems.

Soundly grounded in theory, this book builds on rigorous and diverse case studies. It innovatively highlights the mutually constituting relations between changing infrastructure and urban environments. Its prudent conclusions open up avenues for future research focusing on the global inflexions of urban paradigms while also willing to grant due consideration to situated and contextualized trends.

Villes sud-méditerranéennes sous tension: que nous disent-elles de la transition énergétique?

J’étais l’invité, le vendredi 17 novembre 2017, de l’Institut méditerranéen d’études avancées (IMéRA) à Marseille dans le cadre du cycle mensuel “La transition énergétique v/ les transitions énergétiques : hier, demain, ici, ailleurs” inscrit dans le programme “Phénomènes globaux et régulation” de l’IMéRA et appuyé par le PR2I Energies.

Voici le résumé de mon intervention:

Villes sud-méditerranéennes sous tension: que nous disent-elles de la transition énergétique?
Cette présentation articule des questionnements et des résultats de mes enquêtes dans deux programmes de recherche (ANR Trajectoires énergétiques des métropoles du Sud; ANR Collener: Les collectifs de la transition énergétique) ainsi que des réflexions plus larges issus de mon habilitation à diriger des recherches.
La réflexion s’ancre dans un cadre théorique dérivé de l’écologie politique urbaine, telle que Swyngedouw en particulier la conceptualise, pour aborder les tensions et les reconfigurations des circuits énergétiques urbains. Ce faisant, l’enquête poursuit deux objectifs : saisir les mutations affectant les relations entre villes et énergies dans le double contexte du tournant néolibéral, et de la transition énergétique ; évaluer les apports pour les études urbaines et pour les sciences sociales d’une analyse de ces questions à partir de villes du Sud. Les exemples sont principalement pris au Liban, en Jordanie et en Tunisie, ainsi que, secondairement, dans les autres pays du sud et de l’est de la Méditerranée. Ces travaux partent du constat de tensions grandissantes, dans ces villes en forte croissance démographique et marquées par l’émergence de nouveaux modes de consommation, autour de la question énergétique qui se manifestent en particulier par des coupures et des difficultés d’accès inédites, ainsi que des hausses tarifaires. Alors que la transition énergétique est présentée, dans les pays du Nord et par les organisations internationales, comme un nouveau cadrage politique structurant, impliquant notamment un rôle accru des métropoles, mes enquêtes montrent une situation très complexe. Si les tensions existantes, qui se manifestent en particulier dans les villes, attestent d’une politisation accrue de la question énergétique, en revanche il est difficile de percevoir l’émergence de véritables politiques énergétiques urbaines. Les Etats restent les accords majeurs de l’action énergétique. De plus, l’impératif de la transition vers des énergies bas carbone et l’efficacité énergétique apparaît brouillé au regard d’autres priorités, qu’elles concernent la sécurisation énergétique, la régulation sociale de l’accès aux services par les tarifs, ainsi que des discours nationalistes, anti-colonialistes voire anticapitalistes qui relèguent les aspirations environnementales au second rang. Dans ce cadre, quel statut conceptuel attribuer à la transition énergétique? 

On peut revoir la vidéo de mon intervention (ainsi que les diapositives utilisées), qui dure environ une heure (à partir de 7 mn 30 environ), suivie de questions (une heure environ aussi).

Vidéo intégrale du séminaire « Villes sud-méditerranéennes sous tension: que nous disent-elles de la transition énergétique? » par Eric Verdeil (CERI-Sciences Po) enregistré le 17 novembre 2017, à l’IMéRA.

Parution : Circulation des matières, économies de la circularité

J’ai le plaisir de signaler la parution du dernier numéro de Flux, consacré à Circulation des matières, économies de la circularité, que j’ai coordonné avec Romain Garcier et Laurence Rocher, dans la lignée de nos travaux au sein d’ACREOR qu’ils poursuivent avec bonheur au sein de l’Atelier Matières, énergie, déchets: flux et territoires de l’UMR 5600.
Voici le résumé du texte introductif et, ci-dessous, la table des matières.

Ce texte d’introduction au dossier de Flux 2017/2 (N° 108) questionne l’émergence de la thématique de la circularité des matières dans les politiques publiques urbaines contemporaines. Les articles ont en commun de porter une attention minutieuse à la matérialité des flux qui traversent et constituent la ville et aux objets sociaux qui la composent. Ils analysent les modalités et les conséquences de leur mise en circulation, ainsi que les régulations et les conflits qui l’accompagnent. Que l’ensemble des articles traite de pratiques et de politiques ancrées dans l’espace de la région de Lyon résulte moins d’une volonté monographique que d’une rencontre en partie fortuite. Mais cela souligne en tout cas l’importance d’une approche toujours attentive aux faits géographiques et aux effets de lieu dans la diversité de leurs échelles. Trois thématiques transversales sont présentes : d’abord, en identifiant de nouvelles ressources, les articles permettent de réfléchir à l’invention et à la construction de nouveaux circuits pour les matières. Ensuite, la régulation de ces circuits implique l’identification de nouveaux acteurs et la mise en place de nouvelles formes de relations avec les producteurs et gestionnaires des matières, formant donc l’espace d’une gouvernance renouvelée. Enfin, si ces circuits se structurent dans un espace qui est celui de la proximité géographique, ils s’inscrivent néanmoins dans une logique relationnelle qui ne cesse de questionner les normes et les échelles. Ce numéro permet ainsi de nuancer et de re-matérialiser les injonctions à faire advenir l’économie circulaire dans les villes.

Table des matières

Olivier Zeller, Structurations de l’espace fécal à Lyon au XVIIIe siècle

Aurélie DumainLaurence Rocher, Des pratiques citoyennes en régime industriel : les courts-circuits du compost

Pierre Desvaux, Économie circulaire acritique et condition post-politique : analyse de la valorisation des déchets en France

Romain J. GarcierFanny Verrax, Critiques mais non recyclées : expliquer les limites au recyclage des terres rares en Europe

Laëtitia Mongeard, De la démolition à la production de graves recyclées : analyse des logiques de proximité d’une filière dans l’agglomération lyonnaise

Questions d’énergie à la Royal Geographical Society Conference 2017

Je participerai à deux panels à la Royal Geographical Society Conference 2017 à Londres le 30 août prochain.

Le premier panel s’intitule Scar-Cities: Middle East urbanisms between violent environments and disrupted governance et est organisé par Nathan Marom. Mon papier s’intitule:

“Securitizing urban electricity supply: a political ecology perspective on Jordanian and Lebanese cases”

Un générateur électrique de la société privée Kahraba Jbeil, ou quand le capitalisme familial impose son monopole

Building upon the concept of urban political ecology (Swyngedouw 2006), I apply this framework to the understanding of the flows of energy in the cities of Beirut and Amman and specifically to electricity. Supplying these cities with electricity implies the creation of new circuits that are both material and socio-political. In Amman, one of the projects elaborated to cope with the growth of energy demand is to build a nuclear plant in the “desert” nearby Amman. This project, now allegedly in the final studies, has experienced many episodes and delays. In Lebanon, the citizens facing regular and long lasting blackouts have been relying for more than twenty years on generators operated by various local, mostly informal and commercial-oriented small firms, and now local capitalist companies seeking to push a privatization policy. At a first glance, both situations seem very different in scale and in the type of actors involved. But in both cases, these new circuits are heavily contested and redistribute agencies of power in ways that empower some local actors but that, at the same time, erode solidarity at the city and national level.

Ce papier reprend un chapitre en cours de publication dans le Routledge Handbook for Middle Eastern Cities, dirigé par Haim Yacobi et Nsasra Mansour.

Dans ce même panel, Elvan Arik présentera des éléments de son travail sur les nouvelles géoraphies du chauffage à Istanbul: Heating scarcity: natural gas and the politics of unjust energy transition in Istanbul

Mon deuxième panel sera Urban Energy in the Global South. J’y présenterai avec Sylvy Jaglin le papier suivant : “Electric hybrids: emerging forms of energy transition in southern cities”. Il s’agit d’introduire un projet qui vient d’être financé l’ANR (p.19), excellente nouvelle pour les quatre années à venir… Voici le résumé:

Cities in the developing and emerging countries experience many problems of electricity supply, which conventional responses such as extending the grid cannot fix. Therefore, collective and individual alternatives develop, such as decentralized and hybrid systems. Applying the concept of hybridization to socio-technical studies, the paper articulates a proposition to study them and to evaluate their impact on the future of the electricity system, assuming they represent an emerging but unstudied form of energy transition. This paper exposes the hypotheses that guide a 4-year research which intends to empirically study these emerging configurations (by surveying the actors of the market and the regulation practices) and assess their impact on usual understandings of the transition. We review three main paradigms that have dominated energy research in the South (rural electrification and off-grid contribution; the post-networked city; the infrastructuralisation hypothesis) and we develop our own hypothesis: that of a long lasting hybridization of electrification configurations fueled by the emergence of off-grid devices and logics of unachieved “infrastructuralisation”. This hybridization hypothesis differs from assumptions of substitution as well as from ideas of “incremental infrastructure” or “deliverance palliative”, based on the idea of improvisation and social collaboration, which refers mainly to “practical norms”, such as the electric poaching. Our proposal instead focuses on the emergence of collective solutions, socially more structuring, technically more complex and temporally more durable. The main challenge is not technical (solutions exist and new ones are always invented) or social (in spite of poverty), it relates to the association between the two: that is to say their assemblage into functional socio-technical systems of supply and the strength of institutions in charge of their management and their regulation. Our hypothesis goes that there is no single assemblage model, each being enshrined in its environment. Our presentation will illustrate the potential of the hypothesis based on cases in Lebanon and South Africa, and present other fieldwork where we intend to develop it.