North-South partnerships for sustainable energy: Knowledge-power relations in development assistance for renewable energy

Drawing on a case study of a North–South partnership between non-governmental organisations (NGOs), this paper examines knowledge–power relationships in partnerships for sustainable energy. It presents a framework for visualising and analysing the multiple knowledge challenges faced by development organisations assisting Southern communities in the adoption of off-grid renewable energy technologies (RETs). Partnerships between local and international organisations are seen as a means for meeting these challenges by bringing together complimentary skills and knowledge, but they can be affected by power imbalances between partners inhibiting their performance. Through a micro-analysis of knowledge–power relations between two renewable energy NGOs, this paper shows how the ways in which knowledge is framed and valued in partnerships for sustainable energy determine opportunities for inter-organisational learning and collaboration. Partnership models emphasising an efficient division of labour between partners and ‘North–South knowledge transfer’ may be less likely to deliver effective outcomes than previously thought. Given that the sustainable adoption of off-grid RETs requires processes of social innovation, partnerships that engage in an open negotiation of knowledge may stand a better chance of achieving ‘sustainable energy for all’ (UN, 2015). Based on a discussion of this finding, the paper concludes by proposing a participatory tool for the negotiation of knowledge and knowledge–power relations in partnerships for sustainable energy.

Kruckenberg, L.J. (2015). Energy for Sustainable Development, 29, 91–99. doi:10.1016/j.esd.2015.10.003