Energy for Growth Hub
Podcast Mar 13, 2024

Episode #21 Murefu Barasa: Everyone Has a Role in the Energy Transition

Shaping Energy Transitions

Murefu Barasa, founder and managing partner at EED Advisory, comes on the show to discuss starting one of the only Pan-African energy consulting firms, how the energy sector has changed for the better (and worse) in the last decade, and the differences between the energy transition in Africa and the US.

Murefu Barasa is a Hub Fellow and the founder and managing partner of EED Advisory Limited, a Pan-African consulting firm offering technical, analytical and advisory services in energy, water and climate change. He is an experienced development practitioner with a focus on energy access having led engagements for several clients spanning public, private and non-profit sectors. Murefu holds a BSc in Environmental Studies from Kenyatta University (Kenya) and a Masters in Environmental Science from Yale University (USA). He is a Compton fellow and an Education for Sustainable Energy Development (ESED) scholar.

Show Notes 



KATIE AUTH: I’m Katie Auth.

ROSE MUTISO: And I’m Rose Mutiso, and this is High Energy Planet, the podcast from the Energy for Growth Hub about new ideas to solve global energy poverty.

KATIE AUTH: On today’s show, we have Murefu Barasa. He’s the founder and managing partner at EED Advisory, an African consulting firm that works on water, energy, and climate issues. Over the past two decades, Murefu has worked for and with most of the major development agencies, many African governments, and private sector clients. And in the energy sector, particularly, he’s done a little bit of everything. Off grid solar, mini grids, clean cooking, utility scale renewables, clean energy, finance, he’s He’s done it all, seen it all, and he’s watched the energy access space really evolve over the years. Before starting his consulting company, Murefu worked for Camco Clean Energy PLC in Kenya, the African Development Bank, and the UNDP. Murefu is an incredible leader, and we’re lucky to have him as a fellow at the Hub and also as a friend and collaborator.

ROSE MUTISO: Yeah, and I’ve known Murefu for almost my entire professional life, and he really is one of my most trusted collaborators and advisors in work and in life. And there are so many things that are great about Murafu, but you know, just one striking thing that I’ll single out, um, by way of introducing him and getting you guys excited to hear from him, is that Murefu has this really effortless way in which he straddles So many disparate planes. So he’s a really deep, deep thinker, but he also knows when to stop navel gazing and just get things done, which for me, I love to navel gaze and Murefu is always trying to pull me out of that. you know, he can sit with grandmothers in the village and then turn around and talk shop with influential people anywhere in the world, literally anywhere. Um, he can churn out. a development report to meet a donor specification, but he can also challenge those very donors on their problematic practices. And, you know, one moment I’m at a Nairobi cafe with Murefu philosophizing about the future of energy tech, and the next he’s literally in the middle of nowhere surveying households about their use of biomass in cooking. And then a few days later, he casually tells me about the low cost sensors that he and his team are building to automate data collection for utilities. I mean, he’s pretty much a very humble and very unassuming energy poverty renaissance man, and I’m really excited for our listeners to get to know him in this episode. Obviously, we can’t capture the whole man, the whole legend, but he really, truly is, um, uh, a remarkable person in the space. So, Murefu, welcome. We’re so glad to have you. Just,

KATIE AUTH: Renaissance man.

MUREFU BARASA: my goodness. Thank you so much. That’s, uh, such a generous introduction. Thank you so much. it’s good to be here. It’s good to be with you all. Yeah, and looking forward to this conversation,

KATIE AUTH: So we want to start out with a question that we ask everybody, which is tell us just something about how and where you grew up and how you think that shaped you.

MUREFU BARASA: right? So I was born and raised in Nairobi, Nairobi, which is the capital city of Kenya. And, uh, I grew up in a place called Westlands. Uh, went to school in a place called Kileleshwa. I come from a very big family, actually big and a bit complicated or complex. My dad has 14 kids, one four. I remember the other day. I went to a kid’s school that asked me to give a talk on families. And when I said my dad had 14 kids, you know, all the kids were like, Ooh, that’s like a classroom, you know, because their classrooms are like 14 to 20. But anyway, I grew up in a very big and unusual family, if I can say that, because My dad has been married twice, uh, and so I have step siblings, I have half siblings, uh, and of course I have step mothers as well. I think it has influenced me in a couple of ways. One, I have learned to be independent because if you’re a family of, uh, 14 kids, of course nobody’s going to be looking after you. You have to find your way, you have to figure out, uh, your own

ROSE MUTISO: Where, where are

MUREFU BARASA: in a way,

ROSE MUTISO: Are you towards the top? Are you one of the ones lording the power or are you the baby?

MUREFU BARASA: actually, I’m at the top, so I’m one of the ones loading power, so I’m number four. yeah. So, yeah. So I’m, I’m, I’m at the top. But, uh, yeah, what I’ve learned is, you know, being independent, but also just collaboration because we, you know, we’re like already an organization, you know, a family.

ROSE MUTISO: Uh, that’s, that’s so cool. The, this, I can see why you are drawn in some ways to the United Nations and all of these unwielding collaboration platforms.

KATIE AUTH: I also just don’t understand how your parents managed. I have two kids and it feels really hard. I can’t imagine 14. That’s

MUREFU BARASA: We also have two kids, um, you know, a nine year old and a seven year old. But the thing is, you know, some of the older kids become semi parents, you know, the way they’re like, you know, semi gods, demigods. Yeah, so the older kids become like semi parents. You’re just told, you know, get, you know, take care of this issue. Um, so I guess that’s also one way that they are able to deal with this.

ROSE MUTISO: To be honest, I think it’s quite, it’s quite, it can be quite efficient. Like my mom used to tell us that we were her, like her pension, her, like she delegated labor, you know, although she got all of his benefits actually in the end, but, um, anyway, so moving on a little bit from your, uh, early days to what you’ve been working on, uh, recently. So your consulting firm, EED Advisory, just turned 10 years old this year. Congratulations. I was at the bash in Nairobi and I got some swag, which I use every day and I love. A nice, nice water bottle and the like. But, um, so take us back to when you founded EED. What was the driving motivation behind starting your own development consulting firm?

MUREFU BARASA: Yeah, so the story starts a couple of years, actually, before 2013. So I worked in development right after college. I worked with practical action. And then I also worked for the African Development Bank and also for the World Bank. And during my time at these institutions, there are two things that really struck me. Okay, let me not say two things. There are many things that struck me, but two actually kind of pushed me towards thinking about EED. So one, I realized the very prominent role that consultants play in shaping the narrative, determining investments, determining policy. To an extent that it was almost frightening that the power that consultants have in the reports that they churn out. So that’s the first thing that I noticed. And then the second is, I realized that most of the consulting companies working on energy, climate, sustainability issues, actually not African. Uh, so many non African consulting companies working on African issues. And that really got to me and asked myself, you know, like, why is this the case? We have all these very many brilliant Africans. Why is it that we don’t have? a truly Pan African consulting company doing, interesting and, uh, influential work at scale. And that’s when I, I decided, uh, you know, let’s, let’s give it a try. So we didn’t have a business plan. We, we, we hadn’t really thought things out, but I also have a history of working in, in consulting. So I was like, okay, how hard can this be? So we set up EED in, uh, 2013. And as I say, the rest is history, I

ROSE MUTISO: So what’s interesting is, so you, kind of pointed out two dysfunctions, right? So you solved the second one. we don’t have African firms. You created one, but it to the question of the frightening influence of consultants. Uh, what, what, how is EED grappling with that? Or is it, if you can’t beat them, just join them. Mm-Hmm.

MUREFU BARASA: think it’s a bit of both because I realized that once you take a very militant approach, to this topic of development and consulting, uh, you quickly get isolated very, very quickly. And actually I can give an example. So I remember during the early days of the mini grid conversation in Africa. In fact, I can remember, the very first meetings where the idea of private sector mini grids was being promoted. This was around 2011, and it was mainly being promoted by DFID then, the Department for International Development, now FCDO, which is the UK Development Agency, and also a couple of others, because the, the thinking was really sound, you know, public sector utilities, For the most part have been, uh, dysfunctional across the continent, although I might add, it’s not just the continent. I think this is a global problem, but we can talk about that later. So, there was this thought of, since we have the SDG 7, and we need to accelerate the pace of electrification, how about we invest in, you know, private sector, Developers to to set up mini grids and those early days. I was one of the people who are quite excited. But then when I started looking at the fundamentals after doing some assessment going to actually visit some mini grids, I started having some concerns with mini grids. And when I raise this with some of the development agencies. You know, you quickly realize that, yes, they may actually know what you’re saying, is, factual or leaning towards, being, uh, uh, true, a true picture on the ground, but they are constrained. And I see this constraint very, very many times. There are very many good people, people who mean very, very well in these development agencies, but they are constrained by the institution. so I, am not sure whether we figured out how to solve the first problem, but I think for us to have an influence, we have to be at the table. So we have to find a way of communicating our concerns and divergent views. in a way that does not isolate us from the table, but in a way that’s still effective, in a way that’s compelling, in a way that’s convincing. Because there have been examples where we’ve started that divergent view and people have actually seen the sense and they have You know, like change the way a program is structured.

KATIE AUTH: Yeah, well, your mini grid example makes me think about something that we see all the time in the development space, which is that there comes to be sort of a conventional wisdom or a shared kind of, acceptance of what the, what the big thing is, what the new exciting thing is, what the right answer is. And I hear you saying that often you’re the voice kind of pushing back against that. Do you feel like you’re often in the position of trying to counter? Whatever the conventional wisdom is, whatever the big shiny object of the day is in development circles.

MUREFU BARASA: I would say sometimes, and we hope that it’s actually most of the time because, you know, that’s why we set up EED. But the reality is that sometimes you may not know how things will play out from the onset. So it could be, you know, like a bright, shiny idea. that appears to be terrible, but sometimes you are not very sure because things really change and play out in different ways. And I’ll give an example of, you know, the example that most Kenyans give, which is M Pesa, and this is the mobile money payment platform. So when it was set up, it was not set up initially for mobile money transfers. It was actually set up for farmers who would pull their contributions and they would form savings and cooperative associations. So they’re called SACOs in Kenya. So they noticed that some of the SACO members would prefer or are using the M Pesa app to actually transfer money to other SACO members. So that’s how the M Pesa idea started. And so in the, in the early days, those mixed reaction, like, you know, this thing is going to be, It’s going to be very dangerous to the, to the finance sector. It’s not regulated, but now we can see what M Pesa has become. And in fact, I don’t think there’s any human being that would have imagined what M Pesa is because M Pesa is not just a payment platform. M Pesa is an enabler of businesses, an enabler of lifestyle. It’s, it’s an empowerment tool. It’s so many things to so many people, but it just started out as an app. So sometimes even in development, we may have very strong opinions, say about mini grids or about e mobility or about solar home systems, but the truth of the matter, you know, we have to come always with a level of humility, knowing that we all don’t know how these things play out. So I also try to. You know, even when I have a very strong opinion about an emerging topic, I always try to, consider that, you know, I could be wrong. So that’s also kind of the balancing that we have to do.

ROSE MUTISO: This is so interesting, Mafa. ’cause actually, I was just talking to somebody about this, about how. A lot of my job increasingly is to kind of pour water on excited people. Um, you

MUREFU BARASA: there’s, there’s a role for that, Rose. There’s a role for that.

ROSE MUTISO: I hate that, like, because I’m like a science person. I’m a tech person. I hate that, like, It seems like a part of my job is to be a professional Luddite, you know, to be like, oh, you think VR is the future, but this is what you’re missing.

Or you think this tech is going to change, revolutionize, but actually you’re missing this nuance. So it’s not so much, I can see that it’s important to to point out the ways in which our obsession with shiny objects is obscuring the nuance. But then I think this balance between trying to be a reasoned, a reasonable, pragmatic voice, balancing what is possible, and, versus the realities. It’s sometimes I, I’m struggling with, with that role, you know, that how I’m handicapped. how do you, because you’re like, even much more on the front lines, you know, because I can be in my armchair writing about like you know, everything you think about the future of tech is wrong, uh, in Africa. I said, I literally have a document open on my, on my, uh, laptop, you know, with this kind of, title, but, and I, sometimes I hate that because I want to be the person who is everything is possible, but it seems like the, the everything is possible camp has been overrun by the people who kind of annoy us. So, um, how do you, how do you manage this balance in your day to day?

MUREFU BARASA: Yeah. So, so I was saying earlier that there’s, there’s a role for that. And the example I always give is the, the apartheid struggle in South Africa. of course, Nelson Mandela is like everyone’s hero, but. One of my favorite apartheid characters is O. R. Tambo. So O. R. Tambo was this guy, you know, very personable, very unassuming, very intelligent, very articulate, who was the face of the struggle to the masses in Europe and in the West. So what he would do, he’d go to, to, to Europe and they would have rallies and they would just explain why. Apartheid is wrong. So on one extreme, you had OR Tambo trying to reason out with the crowds, as it were.


MUREFU BARASA: And on the other extreme, you have people like Steve Biko, who’s like, let’s go bomb all the power plants, you know, forget this, let’s go and kill them, you know, all those kinds. And then you have people who like kind of struggle, struggle in between, you know, like even Nelson Mandela, when he started, he was quite extreme, but then he kind of mellowed. So I feel like in this Struggle, if you like, or in this conversation, you need people to play all these roles. You need people who are hardcore extremists, extremists, like calling out, and I’m not saying that’s what you are, Rose. I’m not saying that’s what

KATIE AUTH: Rose the extremist


MUREFU BARASA: like you need, uh, you know, like you need people who are calling it as it is. and giving evidence and rallying up the emotions and rallying up the masses. But at the same time, you need people who can go to some rooms like Owar Tambo, because they would not let Steve Biko go to Europe and have rallies, you know, but they would let Owar Tambo because, you know, he’s, he’s this gentleman, you know, people like him and all that. So I think the whole spectrum is useful and the roles that people play along the spectrum is quite useful. So I don’t feel like someone should try and, the middle on one extreme. I think you just need to do what you think is urgent and then sort of the whole system plays out. And eventually I think we would become better as a society so, Murefu, we want to take advantage of the fact that you have been in the energy access and the energy development space for, uh, you know, not a super long time, but you’ve seen the The industry shift in so many interesting directions. And so we’re going to ask you a three part question about the energy development space. first what’s one thing the sector stopped doing at some point that you were glad to see come to an end? that’s a, that’s an interesting one. Actually, I, I have, I have an answer that’s almost like opposite. What, what did the sector stop doing, which I’m concerned about? But let me see, uh, what,

KATIE AUTH: fair, you can answer it that way if you want.

MUREFU BARASA: actually I have, I have, yeah, I have an answer for you. So. When I started working, rural electrification was all about extending the grid, grid extension, grid extension, grid extension. And there’s a history to that because the model that has been adopted in many African countries is actually fashioned after the U. S. model, uh, you know, the rural electrification agency of the mid 1930s. So the U. S. set up the rural electrification agency. In the 1930s, the electrification rate in the U. S. was quite low. It was less than It was less than 15%. And then after about two or three decades, it was universal access. So when consultants, and here again, the role of consultants and how they influence narratives and development. So when you, when you bring consultants out and say, okay, look, what case study should we adopt? And the US one was one that you could try and replicate. So you find that


MUREFU BARASA: many African

KATIE AUTH: were probably from the U. S., so that was the example that they knew.

MUREFU BARASA: Exactly. Exactly. So, so then, you know, they would say, like, set up a rural electrification agency and then push out electrification. So electrification was synonymous with extending the grid and even in government planning, it would be grid extension. But what has changed over the years, there are other innovative ways of, extending access. So some see it as temporary, uh, as top cap measures, other see it as long term, but that definition has evolved and I think for me, I am, I’m happy about that because there are some countries and we’ve done some work in South Sudan, for example, where we carried out a national energy access survey, and we found the electrification rate was less than 6%. So in a country like South Sudan, if you say that you’re going to extend the grid, it’s going to take you probably 50 years. But if you can say in the interim, we can use solar home systems, you know, standalone solar, and also you can use isolated, uh, public sector or even private sector mini grids, then you can get there sooner. So I think that’s one thing that I’m glad, uh, has, uh, has changed.

KATIE AUTH: So, you know, what’s also interesting about that U. S. example is that I feel like it took a long time for people to actually adopt the, the nuance behind that. So when it got translated to the African context, as you said, it kind of became just this very simplistic, like extend the grid, extend the grid. But in the U S what really made that possible was a huge government subsidies and be really massive appliance financing programs, and they would do tours around the country where they would show people how to use electricity, how to consume it, they’d facilitate productive use, they would, there was all of this kind of wraparound support to enable electricity consumption. And I think people recognize the importance of that increasingly in, in Africa, but it took so long for that aspect of the U. S. story to actually come through. I don’t know if you, if you saw the same thing.

MUREFU BARASA: absolutely. And we, we actually did a paper on this and, uh, there, and we’re pointing out the fundamental, fundamental differences in the context of the US at that time and the, and in Africa. So, one income levels were quite different. Uh, in, in one analysis we found the, the household income was six times higher. So the rural households in the U. S. had like six times higher income compared to the rural household in Africa. So that’s one. So they have the ability to purchase appliances, they have ability to actually use the electricity. And then like you say, there was a lot of investment, I mean, investment and interest from the private sector. So you have Westinghouse, you have General Electric, really pushing appliances. There’s some very funny ads from the, from the mid thirties in the U. S. promoting toasters and all these kinds of things and washing machines and everything, because people could afford them, because that was the context. And then the other thing a large population, relatively large population was urbanized, even at the time in the U. S. And in Africa, most of the population is rural. So the idea is good. You know, it’s a well meaning idea. You know, it’s worked elsewhere, but it’s a good idea for the wrong context. And it took so many years for people to wake up and realize, okay, if we keep this model, it might take us 100 years to reach universal access.

ROSE MUTISO: this is so interesting, Murefu. And, I think one thing that you and I used to talk a lot about was about this idea that poor people are poor. Uh, that a lot of kind of would be change makers in Africa forget that like the baseline is really, really different. And you know, I remember one time when I moved back to Nairobi, uh, I, one of the first things I did, this was, uh, I’d left the U S one of the first things I did is I purchased a washing machine for my apartment. My mom was mad because she was like, this is a job you’ve taken, you know, that these women who wash clothes, you know, and she was like, you don’t buy the washing machine, hire the woman and then she’ll feed her child. And, you know, meanwhile, I’m writing, policy briefs about how, we need, to have more, uh, energy consumptive devices. People need to, you know, you know, it’s just the, the realities, uh, there’s so many different complex realities that we’re trying to balance. on one hand, the headline is. People need to buy more appliances. We need to have more energy consumptive appliances. Utilities need to make more money. On the other hand, there are a lot of people in this population who look at this menial work as, that we’re displacing as livelihood. And so, uh, not to say that, uh, people, you know, I, I think I would like to see women not depend on menial work for their livelihoods. I’d like to see people freed by the washing machine, but just really, goes to show how much context matters and the rural American in the 1930s looks and it has a completely different life than the rural or even urban poor in Kenya. So, um, really glad that AED is on the ground, you know, bringing all these nuances.

MUREFU BARASA: So there’s, there’s something that you touched on that, uh, you know, in the background, when we talk about energy poverty, what essentially is playing in the background is poverty. And that’s something that, You know, we all, we all need to kind of accept, uh, and in fact, sometimes we are kind of trying to push a mountain, uh, because it’s, it’s really is poverty. And the example I give is in many urban areas in African countries, you have, Uh, offices having diesel gensets and, you know, middle class and upper class households having diesel gensets. We’ve never had a policy discussion to promote diesel gensets in Africa. We’ve never had technical assistance to promote the uptake of diesel gensets. We’ve never had surveys to do a willingness to pay, an ability to pay for diesel gensets. The thing is, there are people who can afford diesel gensets, and diesel gensets are being purchased and used. So why is it that, and they’re available in the market, and there’s competition, right? And there’s information, and there’s after sales support. It’s a self sustaining. Uh, sector because people who use them can afford it. And so with the access to say, clean cooking solutions with access to electricity, you know, we are pushing a mountain because in the, in the back end is really poverty. People cannot afford it. And we, we did a really, Fascinating study. And this is why actually I’m in consulting. I really enjoy this applied research. It just, uh, it just pumps my, my energy. So we did this, uh, we did this survey of Nairobi try and see what’s the current access to, uh, clean cooking solutions. What’s the current access. And we found that it’s actually 82%. So 82 percent of Nairobians actually using a clean cooking solution, which was, which was shocking even to the ministry. And we were saying that the households in Nairobi operate under the same by and large policy environment. So how comes it is that people in Nairobi can afford an LPG tank to cook with? and someone in Marsabit, which is a rural area in the north of Kenya, cannot have access to the LPG. And it’s simply because Nairobi is a cash economy. People have jobs and people can afford it, one. And then two, it’s densely populated. So the infrastructure to distribute the LPG is actually cheap to build. So for years we’ve been saying, you know, we need to raise awareness. We need to do all these things, which is important. But at the heart of it is people are not using some of these solutions because they’re poor. And that’s something we need to realize.

ROSE MUTISO: So Murefa, when we started this, this thread, we were first reflecting on one thing you’ve seen the sector over your decades of experience, stop doing that you are glad to see end. So the other side of that question is what’s one thing that you want to see the sector start doing differently?

MUREFU BARASA: Yeah. So I think it’s acknowledging this issue of poverty. So when I started working, you know, right after college, Institutions, mainly development institutions, and in Africa, for better or for worse, they have exceedingly a great amount of influence on development, in the energy sector. Most of the are being funded by development agencies. So when I started working, there was this notion of start initiatives that actually improve the livelihoods the poor. Let’s put money in, in the poor’s pocket. But then over the years, I’ve noticed that the narrative is changing and it’s driven by, you know, ideas like bottom of the pyramid and business at the bottom of the pyramid. I’m seeing the narrative really changing to say, how can we get private sector to provide services to the poor? So it’s kind of moved from how do we put money into the poor’s pocket to how can we get money from the poor’s pocket to support private sector entities. that can provide these services at scale, sustainability, at higher quality, you know, compared to the public sector. And, and this is, this is quite troubling because even in the West, there are some things, there are some services that need to be built and they need to be put in place using public sector finance. and there’s a need for subsidies. And I think the same the case for Africa. So for me, that’s quite concerning because once we, you know, stop lying to ourselves that, you know, people can pay You know, the mini grid connections, people can pay 80 US cents a kilo a tower, and I know this might get me into trouble, but I think I’m just happy saying it these days. If we think that, uh, that’s how Africa will, will grow, I think we’re just lying to ourselves. There’s nowhere where productive use of energy would be supported at scale when 80 US cents, even in New York and in California. Where there’s so much wealth, people are paying less than 30 cents at the extreme. And even the average would probably be 12 cents. We can’t expect, people on the margins to pay a dollar per kilo an hour and get out of poverty. I think that’s something that really concerns me. I speak to, you know, development agencies. The advantage that I have also is that I know some of the individuals personally. Uh, it’s, it’s, I don’t, I don’t need, for example, to, you know, to, to necessarily like write a blog about something that the World Bank is doing or the African Development Bank, unless of course it’s outside my domain, but the people working in this part of the world, I am able to like meet with them and ask them like, you know, what’s happening? Why are you guys doing it? And for the most part. Like I said, very, very well meaning individuals, many times constrained by this, you know, institutional inertia and things that sometimes are beyond them. But that’s, that’s a big concern that I have.


KATIE AUTH: think even that, that bottom of the pyramid narrative was so deeply problematic. I remember when I was at Power Africa and I would be meeting with all of these off grid companies and development agencies, and they were all using at that point, the bottom of the pyramid language. But like you said, if you are targeting private sector investment and selling things On the market at market rates, like you by definition are not actually targeting the bottom of the pyramid. You’re selling to, you know, middle income, maybe lower middle income people. And that’s, that’s fine. That’s great. There’s an important need for that. But I think we kind of fooled ourselves that we were actually targeting. Um, the poorest of the poor. And so I’m, I am glad to hear that you think that’s changing. okay. Last question, Murefu, of this series. we talked a little bit about, buzzy tech ideas that, that sometimes come and go. What’s one example of a buzzy energy access tech trend that actually has stood the test of time?

MUREFU BARASA: on the continent, what I see, and I spoke a bit about this, that there’s a move from centralized energy systems, especially in the electricity sector, To a more decentralized solution. And of course we, we know about the solar home system and its challenges and its shortcomings, but also amongst industries. There’s, uh, you know, commercial and industrial options. So in very many African, cities, uh, and industrial zones, you are seeing. companies setting up, standalone solar powered solutions or the other using other renewable energy sources. And it goes back to that notion of, you have a market that is serviceable and you have suppliers that are providing, you know, products and services that meet the need of a paying customer. So this one, this one is going to stay, I think. Uh, I think this one is going to stay. It’s been around for some time. I know like, uh, in some countries, the utilities are really waking up to this fact that they are losing very large customers to this, uh, you know, standalone or captive solutions, if you like. And it’s a trend that’s going to go on, uh, I think. I think it’s, it’s, it’s hard to tell whether. It’s going to be all good or all bad because you want strong utilities, you know, with, uh, making substantial amount of, uh, of, of returns. They don’t have to be super profitable, but they need to make returns, right. That are decent so that they can pay their staff well, so that they can build infrastructure, maintain the infrastructure, et cetera. But at the same time, you’re like, you know, we’ve been trying to do this for, for so many years, maybe it’s not working and maybe this will be the wake up call that will force them. To start seriously thinking about, customer service and reliability.


ROSE MUTISO: This is so interesting. I was just talking to Joel Nana, you know, Joel, who’s one of our fellows. Um, and he’s working on this very topic about utilities that are starting to wake up to just the sheer amounts of, um, rooftop solar that are propping up and among, uh, commercial industrial customers and how to kind of deal with this, with this trend. And really interestingly, similar to what you were saying about, uh, clean cooking in Nairobi, you know, nobody sensitized these customers on rooftop solar and nobody gave them, uh, subsidies, you know, it’s just basically, it’s just organic trend. And part of the push factor is cost. So the cost of power is so expensive and reliability. And so this kind of market is just propped out of nowhere, just with market actors is. uh, making these decisions because that’s what’s sensible in this, in this, in this context. And that’s looks so different from what’s happening in other countries. And so I really do think that there’s a lot to watch in terms of what’s happening with DRE in Africa. That maybe the idea that DRE is, is, uh, going to be an important part of the energy landscape. Uh, we, you know, people have been right on that point, but then the way it will play out, we’re still kind of in the TBD land. What do you, what do you think of that?

MUREFU BARASA: of course, the, the, the, the exciting beats, uh, are. Spread across, right? So on one hand, you have technology, the reduction in cost, although I have to say that sometimes that’s really exaggerated, especially when projected to the future. I don’t think like solar PV, the cost of solar PV is going to drop at the same rate as it has dropped the last 15 because you kind of plateau, because you get now to the, you get to exhaust the ability to inject efficiency, uh, without affecting the cost. So we’re kind of getting there. So, but yes, you know, the cost of technology is coming down batteries. And also the innovation around battery storage is quite fascinating. Solar PV quite fascinating, even with, uh, with wind, because now you have, uh, multi megawatt, uh, wind, uh, turbines with very high, uh, availability, uh, rates. So, so on, on one, on, on one side, there’s a excitement around the technology evolution. And then on the other side, there’s also the evolution of the business models

KATIE AUTH: Yeah, I’m actually hoping that the competition from the distributed solutions kind of pushes the legacy utilities, not just to improve their reliability and their service, but also to do some of that same innovation around business models that you just mentioned, BrainFu. I mean, there’s, I think there’s an exciting space to think about what a utility might look like, and it might be entirely different than what exists today, and that’s probably a good thing and a necessary thing. Um, I don’t know if you have, if you’ve seen any promising moves in that direction.

MUREFU BARASA: yes, and even some utilities now are considering moving into this, uh, coming up with decentralized solutions, that those kinds of discussions, I don’t know whether it’s good or bad, because sometimes I feel like, you know, utilities should kind of try and be the best they can be as a utility, because most of them, you know, And, you know, truth be told, it varies country by country because like a utility, the Tanzania utility, Tanesco, is vertically integrated. It’s 100 percent public. The utility in Kenya is like 50 50, same for, uh, Uganda. All these utilities are different, but I think by and large, utilities are not very good with doing business. Even when they, they’ve gotten involved in, you know, Uh, like appliance distribution, uh, ventures. They are not very good. So I have mixed feelings about that. I think they should look at how to innovate on the business models that build upon, kind of their strengths as opposed to now trying to compete with the CNI, uh, the commercial industrial, energy service providers.

KATIE AUTH: Yeah, that makes sense. Mm-Hmm.

ROSE MUTISO: Yeah, well, it’s, it’s all, there’s, there’s so much to look forward to, so many open questions. So we’ll just have to check back with you in 10 years, Murafu, for you to do the retrospective and see what we got right and what we’ve got wrong. And if, if everything we thought, you know, would happen, didn’t happen and that kind of thing. In the meantime, I’ll keep kind of penning my, my hot takes about what the future will look like.

MUREFU BARASA: Absolutely. We need that because we need that.

ROSE MUTISO: I’m really trying to strike the balance. It’s a tough one. this has been a really, uh, fun interview. And I think so, so many open threads that we’d like to pursue, but not enough time. And we encourage our listeners to write to us if there’s anything that you’d like us to pick up on. We’ll do another Ask Me Anything episode, down the line. Murefuis in our network. And so we’ll, Love to have him back in the future. And so please just, let this be, uh, the beginning of the conversation. So, closing the formal part of the interview, Marafu, um, we have kind of this question that we ask every guest. And so, I’ll pose it to you. Looking back, what is the one thing that has changed the most about you since you started this work?

MUREFU BARASA: Yeah, I think I’ve mellowed a bit in terms of being critical of, especially government agencies. When I started out my career, I was extremely critical of the Ministry of Energy. The utilities, the regulators, I, I just could not stand them. but the more I get to work with them, because now where I am in my career, I actually went to school with some of these guys, you know, so we can actually meet for coffee and just have a one on one on the challenges that they’re facing as they try to do some good. So what I, what I, what I find is that there are so many, there’s a lot of talk about the people who are not doing good, like the corruption, you know, the utilities and the ministries and procurement and all this drama, but there are so many people, there’s so many individuals. who are really trying to do good within those institutions. So I think that’s kind of like a realization that I’ve come to. And, uh, to some extent we also see that with, uh, with also development agencies. So I think I’ve mellowed a bit and I’m, I don’t know whether it’s compromising. I don’t know if it’s age, uh, although I don’t have regrets, uh, because I think when you’re younger, you should demand more of society because that’s how society changes. You need people who are saying, no, we cannot stand this. Thanks. But I think where I’ve come to is I realize that it’s very, very difficult. And what I always say, and even what I tell my colleagues at EED, is that we should always shoot for success. But if we are not able to get success, let’s make sure we’ve achieved some progress. Let’s make sure that we’ve left the scene, or we’ve left the stage better than we found it, and let’s hand it over to the next generation to see, you know, where they can take it. So we may not, maybe in our generation, we may not see universal access, we may not see power reliability, but when we exit the scene, let’s make sure at least there’s some progress. Because sometimes, you know, we would get quite discouraged when you look at the need versus the pace at which we’re trying to address it. So yeah, I would say that’s what has changed.

KATIE AUTH: All right. Let’s play a short circuit, a rapid fire round of questions. Murefu, are you ready?

MUREFU BARASA: Yes, let’s go.

KATIE AUTH: All right. Number one, if you weren’t working at EED, what would you be doing?

MUREFU BARASA: I think I would be a professor at maybe a university or a college lecturing on maybe development or perhaps even energy and sustainability.

KATIE AUTH: Hmm. I can definitely see you as a professor.

ROSE MUTISO: Yeah, it’s never too late. Um, also, I know that you moonlight a little bit teaching, so you’re most of the way there. So don’t, don’t give up on the dream.

Okay, Murafu, we know you’re a big hiker. So if you could hike anywhere in the world, where would it be?

MUREFU BARASA: So I’m actually planning, and my wife shouldn’t hear this, but I’m planning to do Everest base camp. Not to get to the top, but to do the base camp.

KATIE AUTH: That’s awesome.

MUREFU BARASA: Yeah, so this is a

KATIE AUTH: But you’re, you’re keeping this a secret from your wife. You shouldn’t broadcast it on a, on a podcast if that’s

MUREFU BARASA: I think she knows. I think she knows. Yeah, so I’ve done the high peaks on the continent and Yeah, I think I, one day, uh, yeah, I’ll try Mount Everest Peace Camp.

KATIE AUTH: Wow. Um, what’s something that you think people often get wrong about you?

MUREFU BARASA: Um, I think, I think sometimes people assume that I don’t get mad, uh, and sometimes I can go ballistic on, on different issues. So I think that’s one thing that, uh, people assume, like, you know, this guy, he’s, you know, he’s measured

KATIE AUTH: so mellow.

MUREFU BARASA: mad. Yes, until, until you

ROSE MUTISO: I have personally never seen you mad. Also, when you said that what has changed is that you’ve become more mellow. I was, I’m just, I’ve only known mellow Murafu,


MUREFU BARASA: you should have probably met my, the younger version of me, I guess. It’s,

ROSE MUTISO: okay. All right, Murafu, please fill in the blank. The most depressing thing about the African energy space is blank. Okay,

MUREFU BARASA: it’s mainly driven by development agency.

ROSE MUTISO: Okay. The most exciting thing about the African energy space is blank.

MUREFU BARASA: The sector is still young and evolving, so it has the advantage of taking on new technology, different business models and not necessarily taking the old path.

ROSE MUTISO: I want to learn more about blank,


ROSE MUTISO: uh, you and me together. Okay. I’ll sidebar you about this. Uh, it’s one of my active projects.

KATIE AUTH: And last one, what’s one book you’ve read at any point in your life that has impacted you really deeply?

MUREFU BARASA: Oof, that’s a hard one. Uh, because there, there are many, but, uh, the ones that I can throw out include, uh, the psychology of money and, the others like, uh, so some of the, Chinua Achebe books. So there’s this African writer is called Chinua Achebe, uh, who writes about, uh, pre colonial Africa. And, uh, of course, most of the stories are fiction. But, uh, when, when I read those books, you know, sometimes it reminds me the more things change, the more they stay the same. So I would recommend like all Chinua Achebe books. Um, yeah, those, those are the ones that I would say now, but there are many, I don’t think I have one that, that, uh, is above them all.

ROSE MUTISO: Cool. Cool. Um, so, uh, actually, you know, I’m actually taking notes on the psychology of money. I wanted to ask a follow up, but it’s short circuit, so I can’t. So I’m just going to Google it and

KATIE AUTH: Follow the rules,

ROSE MUTISO: you. I like how I was like, I’m not gonna, I’m not gonna follow up, but I’m just going to say two minutes of things about but yeah, I’m definitely going to look that up. That one, that one was not on my radar. So, um, thank you so much, Murefu. Already we’re learning so much from you, even in the short circuit, kind of rapid fire segment. thank you for being on the show and just for being such a good friend of the Energy for Growth Hub, such a great collaborator. And we look forward to continuing to work with you and, and, and see where you and EED go over the next 10 years.

KATIE AUTH: Thanks, Murefu.

MUREFU BARASA: And thanks for having me. It’s been a pleasure. yeah, looking forward to moving this conversation better and. Uh, seeing the continent evolve to be what it’s supposed to be.

KATIE AUTH: Us too. That’s it for today’s show. High Energy Planet is a production of the energy for growth hub, matching policy makers with evidence-based pathways to a high energy future.

ROSE MUTISO: For everyone, find out and share your questions and thoughts with us at Energy for Growth on X and LinkedIn.

KATIE AUTH: And if you liked today’s episode, please be sure to rate and review the podcast and maybe tell a friend about us. Audrey Zenner is our executive producer. Join us next time for more high energy planet.