The IREK project will explore four key hypotheses:
- Hypothesis One
That emerging economies are in a particularly strong position to advance relevant and affordable technologies. This is because conditions in emerging economies such as Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) are more similar to those in poor countries. At the same time new research suggests that Northern producers systematically underestimate the economic potential of innovating for ‘bottom of the pyramid’ users, resulting in their underinvestment and lack of adaptation to the African rural context. This hypothesis will be tested by comparing the character of interactive learning taking place between Kenyan communities and organizations and partners from China with partners from Denmark (wind power) and Germany (solar PV).
- Hypothesis Two
That even the most ‘relevant’ technologies developed abroad will need to go through a process of transformation in order to become both efficient and inclusive in the specific context of Kenya. According to this hypothesis, the source of the technology has little to do with the degree of which solutions are ‘appropriate’, rather it depends on the contextualisation and adaptation of the technology into the local innovation system.
- Hypothesis Three
That ‘Small is Beautiful’, and for example small-scale mini-grids may be associated with higher learning exponentials than large projects. Kenyan actors may have relatively low levels of pre-existing technological and organisational capabilities. Their involvement in large-scale projects will therefore tend to take place in less knowledge-intensive activities and involve fewer opportunities for learning. Mini-grids may provide better opportunities since the level of complexity in projects may match better current absorptive capacities.
- Hypothesis Four
That significant learning may not occur automatically from participating in renewable energy projects. It is likely to depend on: (A) the degree to which such learning – in the form of knowledge transfer from external partners – is an explicit part of the project. For example, some projects may involve a planned hand-over of certain tasks (e.g. maintenance) to Kenyan partners and training may therefore be a key element of the project; (B) the degree to which Kenyan project participants invest in learning themselves (increasing absorptive capacity), for example by arranging training activities and hiring of experienced engineers.