Dr Long Seng To

Sustainable Energy. Development. Resilience.

Going Clean webinar for UK DIT

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It was great to speak about ‘What is the United Nations Framework for Resource Classification (UNFC) to Solar Energy?‘ as part of the Going Clean webinar series hosted by the UK Department for International Trade on 7th September 2021.

Clean energy is emerging as one of the key strategic industries of the 21st century, with global trade in solar and wind related products rivalling that of the trade in oil and gas. International trade in clean energy products and services represents a major opportunity for Global Britain to support partners across the world in tackling climate change.

Going Clean aims to bring clarity to how the clean energy sector is governed, looking at the structure of the markets, the intricacies of the supply chains, the geopolitics of trade, and the expert networks that drive deployment.

In this Going Clean event, I joined Department of International Trade Clean Energy Sector Specialist Dr Richard Hall to discuss the Specifications for the application United Nations Framework Classification for Resources (UNFC) to Solar Energy and how it can lead to greater investment in solar energy.

Read more about the event here.

New paper: Funding and Delivery Models for Modern Energy Cooking Services in Displacement Settings


New ways of funding and delivering modern energy cooking services in displacement settings is urgently needed to address the scale of the issue. This article on ‘Funding and Delivery Models for Modern Energy Cooking Services in Displacement Settings: A Review’ examines current practices and suggests innovative pathways for the future.

This article was published in Energies as part of the Special Issue on Clean Energy Innovations: Challenges and Strategies for Low and Middle Income Countries.

Read the journal article here.

Chair of Solar Subgroup for UN Expert Group on Resource Management


I am honoured to be appointed the Chair of the Solar Energy Subgroup of the UN’s Expert Group on Resource Management (EGRM). The Solar Subgroup developed the specifications for the application of the UN Framework Classification for Resources (UNFC) to solar energy which will accelerate the transition to sustainable energy. In 2021, we will focus on developing case studies to show the value of applying the specifications to solar energy projects.

Read more about my appointment and the work of the Solar Energy Subgroup here.

Webinar: A participatory approach for visualising energy resilience

Thank you to the Society of Circular, Regenerative, and Sustainable Systems for inviting Xinfang Wang, Louise Reardon, Asha Singh and I to speak at their inaugural webinar on 20th May 2021.

Our talk was about ‘A Participatory Approach for Visualising Energy Resilience in Nepal from a Whole-System Perspective’.

Understanding how and in what ways to foster resilience within energy systems is a complex issue, encapsulating a diversity of factors. This complexity creates barriers to effective decision-making towards resilience, where a whole-systems approach is required amidst a relatively siloed governance landscape.

To support decision making in this area, this talk discussed how a bottom-up participatory approach can be valuable in enabling decision-makers and key stakeholders to visualise the complexity of energy systems resilience, and in turn help facilitate the application of a whole-systems approach to the design of sustainable policy interventions towards more resilient systems.

The talk outlined the participatory causal loop mapping approach, highlight the method’s value in identifying the variables and visualising interconnections affecting energy resilience in Nepal, as a case study. Nepal has experienced energy supply disruption from both long-term energy supply deficiency and short-term shocks. The outcomes of our bottom-up participatory workshop with key stakeholders show the significant benefit of using this approach to enable participants visualising the complexity of energy systems resilience and creating a shared understanding of ways in which resilience can be improved.

Webinar: Energy resilience in the Global South

It was a pleasure to present a webinar on ‘Energy resilience in the Global South: the vital role of communities’ at the Centre for Data Science at the Coventry University on 14th May 2021. The talk covered the need for research on energy resilience, the vital role that communities play in creating solutions and an overview of my current work in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

You can read more about the webinar here.

UNECE Resource Management Week 2021: Renewable Energy Workshop

I was delighted to join for the Renewable Energy Workshop at the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe’s (UNECE) Resource Management Week 2021 on 26 April. The workshop focused on integrated water-energy management and I contributed to a panel on ‘Should integrated energy companies have integrated information systems?’. The panel discussed the value that the United Nations Framework Classification for Resources brings to different stakeholders.

Read more about the UNECE Resource Management Week 2021 here.

New briefing: Clean cooking in refugee camps and COVID-19

I contributed to a new Modern Energy Cooking Services Briefing Note on Clean cooking in refugee camps and COVID-19: What lessons can we learn? Drawing on progress made in Rwanda, Uganda & Bangladesh, this briefing outlines lessons to be learned for implementing clean cooking in refugee camps in the context of challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read coverage of the briefing on the humanitarian information service Relief Web here and the full briefing note here.

New paper: Why firewood?

This article published in Energy Research and Social Science addresses the question ‘Why firewood? Exploring the co-benefits, socio-ecological interactions and indigenous knowledge surrounding cooking practice in rural Nepal’. In the push to deliver clean cooking via modern cooking solutions, the co-benefits of traditional cooking practices are often overlooked. By exploring these co-benefits in the context of Nepal, we found that transition to clean cooking can be achieved by:

  • localising modern cooking solutions by modifying the design to suit cultural and practical needs, while simultaneously
  • improving traditional cooking practices to reduce negative effects, as fuel stacking is inevitable, and
  • delivering modern cooking solutions as part of a holistic array of development interventions.

Read the journal article here.

Mapping synergies and trade-offs between energy and the SDGs: A case study of off-grid solar energy in Rwanda

Fig. 2
Interlinkages between off-grid solar energy in Rwanda, the SDGs and Targets

Building on our previous work on Mapping synergies and trade-offs between energy and the Sustainable Development Goals this new journal article is the first to map the relationship between energy and the 169 Targets of the 2030 Agenda in a specific country and sector context. We found synergies between 80 (47%) of the SDG targets and off-grid solar systems in Rwanda. This showed how the sector can contribute to human development and well-being, build physical and social infrastructures, and achieve sustainable management of environmental resources.

Read the article here.

BJTU+ Team at Solar Decathlon China 2021

The Bag, Box, Building, Community (BBBC) concept

I am delighted to be part of the team advising the BJTU+ Team at Beijing Jiaotong University who have been selected to enter the 2021 Solar Decathlon China competition.

Solar Decathlon China aims to create a workforce development and education program which can provide student architects, engineers, business majors, and communicators the opportunity to cooperate in designing and building sustainable housing projects that can respond to people’s daily realities and regional development.

The BJTU+ Team will design and build a novel transitional housing solution to provide energy and shelter during and after disasters. The Bag, Box, Building, Community (BBBC) modular design will address the shelter and energy needs of first responders, as well as long-term resilience of the community. My input will help them to consider community energy resilience and modern energy cooking services in their design.

Read more about the BJTU+ Team here.

New report: Landscape analysis of modern energy cooking in displacement settings

The Landscape Analysis of Modern Energy Cooking in Displacement Settings report was recently published as part of the Modern Energy Cooking Services (MECS) Programme. The report explores the drivers and constraints for the transition from traditional biomass fuels to modern energy cooking in displacement settings under three main themes: technological requirements; the role of different stakeholders; and policies and financial models. The report identifies five core priority areas of interest for the MECS humanitarian energy stream:

  • opportunities for MECS transitions in urban and peri-urban displacement contexts
  • MECS in community facilities and humanitarian institutions
  • innovative financing of MECS in displacement settings beyond grant funding
  • quality data on energy access and
  • inclusive models of MECS provision in and for the displaced and host communities. 

You can read the report here.

2nd Urban Resilience Asia Pacific Conference

I was delighted to organise and present a session at the 2nd Urban Resilience Asia Pacific Conference (URAP2) online on 4th December 2020. The session focused on ‘Energy resilience and disasters in the South Pacific: political economy dynamics, community responses and planning’. The session presented a synthesis of three workshops on Energy Resilience in Pacific Island Countries in 2020 concerning planning and investing in more resilient energy systems, energy resilience and the political economy of off-grid solar and community energy resilience strategies in response to disasters. The session was presented in collaboration with Dr Anna Bruce (UNSW), Dr Iain MacGill (UNSW), Dr Paul Munro (UNSW) and Dr Atul Raturi (University of the South Pacific).

You can watch the URAP2 session below (starting at 17:16:05 on the recording).

Book chapter: Community energy resilience for a new climate urbanism

I am delighted to contribute a chapter on ‘Community energy resilience for a new climate urbanism’ to a book on Climate Urbanism: Towards a Critical Research Agenda edited by Vanesa Castán Broto, Enora Robin and Aidan While. The book is the outcome of an international workshop on the changing relationship between cities and climate change hosted by the Urban Institute, University of Sheffield in September 2019.

My chapter shows how communities play an active role in ensuring energy resilience, and argues that community energy resilience will be a fundamental part of the urban transformations required to address climate change. The chapter interrogates the idea of community resilience in the context of climate urbanism, and explores the strategies that communities use to access energy in the face of shocks and stresses in two rapidly urbanising countries, Nepal and Malawi. The chapter contributes a new perspective on climate urbanism by examining how climate change is shaping how energy services are organised and governed at the local level.

You can order your copy of the book here.

New project: CESET

CESET logo

I am excited to be part of a new 3-year project on Community Energy and the Sustainable Energy Transition in Ethiopia, Malawi and Mozambique (CESET) which explores how communities can support just energy transitions in East Africa. The project will create knowledge on the political economy and landscape of community energy, as well as a Community Energy Lab in Mozambique and a Regional Learning Alliance.

As a Co-Investigator, I will be co-leading a work package that explores the landscape of community energy across the three countries. Through comparative research, our team will generate new knowledge about existing and potential models for delivering community-led energy solutions in diverse contexts of action.

The project is supported by UK Research and Innovation through the Global Challenges Research Fund.

Learn more about the project here.

Workshop series: Energy resilience in Pacific Island Countries

Resilience in an energy system can be defined as its ability to resist, absorb, accommodate, adapt to, transform and recover from shocks and stresses. Energy resilience in the Asia-Pacific region is shaped by dynamics relating to energy security, transitions, reliability and recent disasters, such as coastal flooding, volcanic eruptions, cyclones and COVID-19. This interactive workshop series on 1-4 December 2020 will open up dialogue on energy resilience focusing on the experience of Pacific Island Countries, as well as exchange experiences with other regions. Case studies will include Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Tuvalu and Tokelau, as well as drawing experience from Australia and a range of other countries. The aim of the series is to jointly identify research priorities for increasing energy resilience using grid and off-grid renewable energy in Pacific Island Countries. The three workshops are:

We will bring together insights from the three workshops in a panel discussion at the Urban Resilience Asia Pacific Conference:

The series is organised by the University of New South Wales, University of the South Pacific, University of Papua New Guinea and Loughborough University, with contributions from partners ITP Renewables, GSES and CSIRO. We welcome participants from the Asia-Pacific Solar Research Conference, Urban Resilience Asia Pacific Conference and Geographic Information for Disaster Management Conference. The work is supported by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency’s International Engagement Program, the Australian Research Council (ARC) and the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Research Fellowship scheme.

Download the workshop background paper and register here.

New report: Impacts and Coping Mechanisms for the Covid-19 Pandemic in Malawi’s Energy Sector

This report presents the results of two online workshops funded by the Energy and Economic Growth programme on the impact of COVID-19 on Malawi’s energy sector, and the coping mechanisms employed by different stakeholders within the sector. The workshops were held in collaboration with Mzuzu University in Malawi.

Read the report here.

New paper: A systems thinking approach to stimulating and enhancing resource efficiency and circularity in households

Conceptual diagram showing tri-lateral approach in systems thinking for enhancing energy efficiency and resource circularity in households (Ng, K.S. & To, L.S., 2020)

A new article on ‘A systems thinking approach to stimulating and enhancing resource efficiency and circularity in households’ has just been published in the Journal of Cleaner Production. It analyses three integrated household energy supply and waste management models, and shows that switching to solar PV offers significant greenhouse gas reduction and cost savings. Further benefits can be attained by increasing resource recovery from waste.

Read the article here.

PhD Studentship: Integrated energy planning for community resilience

Applications are now open for a funded PhD studentship on ‘Integrated energy planning for community resilience’ at Loughborough University.

About the project

Developing countries are increasingly facing multiple stresses and shocks such as climate change and disasters. Progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals cannot be maintained without addressing resilience in energy planning at the community level.

Your will work in partnership with BRE Trust and contribute to the Quantifying Sustainability in the Aftermath of Natural Disasters (QSAND) self-assessment tool which promotes and informs sustainable approaches to relief, recovery and reconstruction. The tool consists of a set of questions and a scoring methodology to guide communities in decision-making to promote sustainability and resilience as they recover, and to identify and assess the suitability of solutions.

This PhD focuses on the energy component of QSAND and examines how it interacts with other components such as shelter and water. The objectives are to:

  1. develop a methodology and framework to map the synergies and trade-offs between energy and other critical infrastructures for relief, recovery and reconstruction
  2. apply the methodology and framework to case studies of communities in a developing country, involving fieldwork to collect qualitative and quantitative data
  3. develop decision support tools to help communities and aid agencies to plan energy solutions in a way that enhances overall resilience.

Applications close 19 July 2020.

Read more and apply for this PhD opportunity here.

Recruiting: Research Associate for Energy in Humanitarian Settings

Join the Modern Energy Cooking Services (MECS) team at Loughborough University! We are looking for a Research Associate passionate about clean cooking in humanitarian settings.

1.8 billion people have access to electricity but still cook with biomass. Load shedding, weak grids, affordability of electricity, accessibility of liquid petroleum gas (LPG), tradition, perceptions, poor energy governance, and a lack of suitable cooking appliances all act as barriers to scaling up the use of electricity or gas for cooking – clean cooking. The MECS Programme, is a £39.8 million, 5-year programme funded by UKAid through the Department for International Development.

The Research Associate will support the delivery of the MECS programme with a specific focus on clean cooking in humanitarian and displacement settings. The workstream is split into 3 core work packages: 1) understanding transition pathways for MECS in displacement situations; 2) demonstrate technology, innovation and delivery models; 3) capacity building and scale up. The Research Associate will be expected to lead on work packages 1 and 2 and support on 3. MECS works across 15 priority countries. For the humanitarian work stream, activities are likely to be focused on 3-5 countries.

Applications close on 16 July 2020.

Find out more about this job opportunity here.

Community Energy Resilience and Electricity Systems: Workshops Report

I’m very pleased to announce that a summary of the outcomes of ‘community energy resilience and electricity systems’ workshops in the UK, Nepal and Malawi is now available.

The report gathers together the expertise of 75+ practitioners, policymakers and researchers from 13 countries. We call for further action and research on:
1. Energy system design to improve energy system resilience
2. The role that community plays in ensuring energy system resilience, and
3. The role energy systems play in community resilience.

This project was a collaboration with the Energy and Economic Growth programme and the Low Carbon Energy for Development Network with support from the UK Energy Research Centre Whole Systems Networking Fund. A huge thank you to all the participants for contributing their expertise!

Read the executive summary and download the report here.

New Paper: Decentralization: The key to accelerating access to distributed energy services in sub-Saharan Africa?

Our journal article on ‘Decentralization: the key to accelerating access to distributed energy services in sub-Saharan Africa?’ has just been published in the Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences. Drawing on the experiences of Kenya and Malawi, the paper explores the inter-linkages between distributed energy services and decentralized local governance systems.

Read the article here.

Frontiers of Development symposium: Disaster resilience

I really enjoyed taking part in the Royal Academy of Engineering Frontiers of Development Symposium on Disaster Resilience in Istanbul on 2-4 March 2020. The symposim brought together about 60 early- to mid-career researchers and practitioners from industry, academia, government and NGOs from around the globe in a multidisciplinary workshop.

It was great to learn from so many different perspectives, share ideas and discuss opportunities to collaborate. We talked about emerging systemic vulnerabilities, the importance of governance and supporting wellbeing. We also had the opportunity to learn about siesmic risk in the region during a visit to the Department of Earthquake Engineering and the Kandilli Observatory and Earthquake Research Institute at Boğaziçi University. I look forward to keeping in touch and working with this truly remarkable group!

Read more about the symposium here.

Book chapter in Energy Access and Forced Migration

I am delighted to contribute a chapter on ‘Towards community energy resilience’ to a book on Energy Access and Forced Migration edited by Owen Grafham from Chatham House. The book brings together author-teams of practitioners, academics, businesses and policymakers in an interdisciplinary dialogue about the best way of approaching energy provision for the forcibly displaced.

My chapter, co-authored with Niraj Subedi, develops the emerging concept of community energy resilience. Firstly, we examine definitions of resilience and community resilience and how they relate to energy services. Secondly, we discuss energy resilience in the broader context of the community and the research needs identified during a series of workshops with experts from energy access and disaster risk reduction. Thirdly, we take a deep dive into the case study of Nepal after the major earthquake in 2015, an event that displaced 2.6 million people. Lastly, we will reflect on the concept of community energy resilience in relation to forced migration and avenues for further research.

You can order your copy of the book here.

Royal Academy of Engineering Research Forum 2019

Dr Long Seng To standing in front of her poster at the Royal Academy of Engineering Research Forum.

It was great to share my work on Sustainable Development Goal 7 and community energy resilience at the Royal Academy of Engineering Research Forum on 12 November 2019.

You can find out more about the event here.

International workshop on community energy resilience at Loughborough

Participants discussing at international workshop on community energy resilience at Loughborough University.

It was a pleasure to host an international workshop on Community Energy Resilience at Loughborough University in October 2019. The workshop brought together representatives from the partner organisations from Nepal, Malawi and the UK involved in my Engineering for Development Research Fellowship funded by The Royal Academy of Engineering. Loughborough University’s Vice Chancellor, Prof Bob Allison, opened the workshop and featured our collaboration in his newsletter to the university as ‘research story of the month’. During the workshop, we shared experiences from each country, and made progress towards a framework for measuring community energy resilience. We also spent time planning our exciting collaboration in the coming years.

Read more about the workshop here.

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