Decentralization: the key to accelerating access to distributed energy services in sub-Saharan Africa?

The decentralization of governance is increasingly considered crucial for delivering development and is being widely adopted in sub-Saharan countries. At the same time, distributed (decentralized) energy systems are increasingly recognized for their role in achieving universal access to energy and are being promoted in sub-Saharan countries. However, little attention has been paid by governments and energy practitioners to the dynamic interrelationships between national and local government and the role of governance decentralization in transitioning to distributed energy systems. This paper traces the complex relationships between accelerated delivery of distributed energy and decentralized local governance systems. The argument is grounded in an exploration of two different approaches to decentralized energy systems governance in Kenya and Malawi. For Kenya, analysis focuses on the energy sector since the adoption of the new decentralized constitution in 2010. In Malawi, it focuses on the involvement of the authors in piloting Local Authority Energy Officers in districts under the decentralization of Malawian energy policy. Our analysis shows that accelerating the speed and scale of implementation for distributed energy systems and enhancing their sustainability and socio-economic impacts is directly linked to the quality of local and national governance structures and their interrelationships. The paper extends existing work in energy and evidence literacy for policy actors by developing an analytical framework, to enable more effective local governance within energy access initiatives in the Global South.