To address the dual challenges of climate change and rapid urbanisation, the Global Resilient Cities Network (R-Cities) launched the Urban Power Program in 2022. Arup was engaged to design collaborative workshops, known as ‘design sprints’, in Cape Town, South Africa; Lagos, Nigeria; Cali, Colombia and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, aiming to develop solutions alongside the local community that enhance energy network resilience.

Our team of specialists – including experts in climate and sustainability, international development, energy and resilience – acted as technical reviewers to assess the energy resilience of the four cities. We developed the design sprints to enable participants to share their experiences of vulnerabilities in the energy system and co-create sustainable solutions tailored to the local context. Our experts trained local stakeholders in all four cities and facilitated design sprints in Cape Town and Lagos.

Urban energy challenges are complex and, when tackled in isolation, solutions can alienate marginalized, energy poor communities. The program connected stakeholders and gave a voice to marginalized communities to help address the prevalence of energy poverty. We helped the four cities to unlock energy-related investment opportunities which have the potential to be translated into long-term socio-economic gains.

Urban Power supports cities in building energy resilience video still
The Urban Power Program – an initiative addressing energy poverty and promoting sustainable energy transitions.

Fair and equitable energy transition – engaging the local community

The success of the Urban Power Program hinges on meaningful engagement with local stakeholders, including governments, the private sector and vulnerable communities. 

Learning from people’s lived experiences was key. By amplifying the voices of energy-poor and marginalized groups, we can identify challenges and collaboratively brainstorm solutions.

We spearheaded the creation of design sprints – convening city officials, energy experts, utility companies, private sector industries and civil society to garner firsthand insights into the needs and demands of communities, municipalities and businesses. We trained local partners and city governments to deliver the sprints in the four cities and joined the facilitation teams in Cape Town and Lagos. 

The challenges selected for the design sprints were intentionally complex, surpassing the capacity of any single sector or discipline to solve. Prior to the sprints, we conducted a root cause analysis of the challenges faced by each city. During the sprints, participants discussed these challenges and provided feedback on the potential root causes. 

Our goal was to empower participants to co-create implementable city-specific solutions. These concepts were refined and R-Cities worked with city governments to select projects for further development.

Accelerating change – feasible projects

In Cape Town, the focus is on improving electricity access for vulnerable ‘backyarder’ communities. ‘Backyarders’ rent portions of existing formal homeowners’ yards and live in either formal or informal dwellings.

In Lagos, the emphasis is being placed on scaling renewable energy manufacturing capacity to deliver solutions for critical public infrastructure.

Both Cali and Rio de Janeiro are concentrating on solar energy prospects, aiming to amplify solar-powered housing solutions in Cali while enhancing the resilience and equity value of solar farms in Rio de Janeiro.

Balancing bankability and social value were key to the success of these initiatives. For each sprint, the team developed a project development program with matching project finance to ensure viability and maximize impact.