Course:GEOG352/2020/Leapfrogging Conventional Energy Systems: Sustainable Energy in Antananarivo

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Megacities today may not be the cities of the future. With technology innovating at incredible rates, many developing cities are beginning to adopt modern technology far faster than their counterparts in wealthier nations. A lack of established, complex infrastructure allows these cities to innovate quickly and implement new technologies with relative ease. This concept can be referred to as leapfrogging. Leapfrogging is the use of advanced technologies by developing countries to modernize quickly while avoiding the environmental and social risks associated with non-renewable energy.

Antananarivo, Madagascar

This wiki studies the city of Antananarivo, Madagascar, where sustainable energy production has begun to surpass conventional energies and has the potential to assist the nation’s broader development objectives. While Antananarivo has good motivation to move towards renewable energies due to its long-run profitability and sustainability, there is also a sense of urgency considering Madagascar’s extreme vulnerability to the effects of climate change. With much of the population living below the poverty line and a climate that already exhibits frequent extreme weather events, combating climate change on a local scale is integral to Madagascar’s future.

Antananarivo is the capital and largest city in Madagascar located in the island’s central highlands. Greater Antananarivo stretches over 88 km with a population of 1.61 million. The city, and the country more broadly has been mired in poverty for many decades. Only 10% of Madagascar’s citizens live above the poverty line and only 15% have reliable access to electricity.[1] Powering the country has become a major development objective of Madagascar’s government with solar and hydroelectric power projects dominating the sphere. Antananarivo, as the capital of the country has played a central administrative and planning role in implementing sustainable energy production projects.

Leapfrogging conventional energy systems in favour of sustainable energy systems is particularly salient in cities in the geographical south and east. Rather than adhering to a linear theory of development modeled and promoted by countries and cities in the north, these cities are creating their own context-specific model of development that considers and incorporates local needs and local strengths.


Ecological Urbanism can be considered a way of viewing the city as an ecosystem unto itself. This way of understanding and creating urban spaces promotes a type of city that reflects the same interdependence, self-sufficiency, and cyclicality that is seen in the natural world.[2] These cities exist in symbiotic relation to the natural environment, rather than in opposition to it. Ecological urbanism can also be thought of in relation to urban political ecology. This theoretical framework considers how the natural world is adapted to and transformed in the creation and re-creation of urban spaces. Urban political ecology, or UPE is broad in scope, considering issues of power, inequality and social relations and how they shift in relation to the ecology of cities.[3]

W.W. Rostow’s Stages of Economic Growth linearizes the process of economic development and assumes that all nations are on the same development pathway. The stages begin with a ‘traditional society’ in which resources are devoted to agriculture and the limited technologies put a cap on their productivity. This moves towards the ‘take-off stage’ in which coal, gas and other non-renewable energies fuel industrialization and economic growth. The final stage of development is the “age of high mass consumption”, where a highly capitalized society allows for investment in social welfare and social security. This path has led to widespread environmental degradation and substantial greenhouse gas emissions. On a planet increasingly concerned about mitigating climate change, new models of development are necessary that learn from the mistakes of developed countries and avoid the environmental and social impacts of non-renewable energy production. Antananarivo and other cities in the geographical south and east are becoming global leaders of a form of economic development that works within planetary bounds.

A commonly cited definition of sustainable development describes it as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.[4] This understanding of sustainable development also considers global inequality in the present. A sustainable model of development should meet the needs of people in both wealthy nations and the world’s poor countries. The current energy and consumption patterns of cities in the geographical north have long been understood to exceed ecological limits. With cities in the global south and east increasingly developing far faster than their rural surroundings, it has become important for these cities to consider ecological limits on their path toward higher GDP and increased engagement in a globalized world.

Antananarivo’s shift toward renewable energy exemplifies these themes by rejecting a linear model of development, reimagining the urban through an ecological lens, and considering both current and future needs of society when implementing new projects and policies. Antananarivo is attempting to bypass some of the harmful stages that cities in the north went through on their development path and instead is forging their own way that is responsive to both global and local challenges.

Case Study of Madagascar's Energy

Madagascar currently has a generation capacity of 570 megawatts (MW) for a population of 24 million people.[5] Even then, only 60% of it is truly available due to poor preservation of power plants, with the residents of Antananarivo subject to frequent power outages. To put that in perspective, the average American household uses 10.972 MW per year.[6] Only 15% of the population currently has reliable access to energy in Antananarivo, placing it amongst the lowest consumers of energy per capita in the world. In regards to access to electricity, it doesn’t fare much better, ranking 184th in a list of 190 countries. Antananrivo also ranked 161st by the World Bank's Doing Business this year, a rank determined by the average person’s ability to start a business, get credit, pay taxes, and get access to electricity in a city.[7] This lack of energy translates to a lack of output, which has had a tremendous impact on the region’s economy, as a vast majority of the population lives below the poverty line. Though this data indicates abject failure, it also reveals Antananarivo’s potential to invest in its renewable energy sector and disembed itself from older models of development through leapfrogging.

Antananarivo's Daily Average of Direct Normal Irradiance

In 2014, the government of Madagascar authorized a series of policy reforms that set out to accomplish the following: increase production capacity and reduce energy loss, promote renewable energy production, and greatly expand the reach of the domestic power grid. The government committed to providing at least 70% of the country’s population with power by 2030, with the objective being to have renewable, domestic energy production replace the expensive thermal power that currently dominates in the country.

Madagascar has significant potential for developing its renewable energy sector through hydro, solar and wind. Madagascar absorbs over 2,800 hours of sunlight every year, which could provide enough energy to power 70% of the country.[5] Paired with an estimated 1,500 untapped hydro sites that have the potential to produce 7.8 GW (7800 MW) and wind speeds reaching 7m/s in some parts of the country, there is massive potential to scale up while creating a diverse and sustainable energy sector.[1]

With the help of the World Bank and public-private partnerships, Madagascar has begun numerous small and medium scale renewable energy projects. Solar farms and waterfall-fed hydro projects are among the projects currently underway to increase domestic energy production. An ongoing project funded by the World Bank aims to support the transformation of Madagascar’s domestic energy sector into a high output, high-performing, sustainable producer and distributor of energy. This project, directed by Scaling Solar, will fund numerous renewable energy projects and help to improve the governance of the nation’s sole domestic energy company, JIRAMA. The project estimates to mitigate 450,212 tonnes of CO2 across 20 years of implementation with an economic rate of return of 26.3%.[1]

Currently, Madagascar faces a few issues for implementing renewable energy plants: Lack of scale, lack of competition, high transaction costs, high perceived risk, and limited institutional capacity.[8] Scaling Solar has set out to create a 25 MW plant that would connect to the Antananarivo network through a mix of public funding and carefully vetted private partnerships. Scaling Solar addresses the issues listed above by functioning as a transparent collective, allowing investors to pool their resources and technical skills before committing to a project. This minimizes the challenges of scale, high transaction costs, and the perceived risk that are associated with investing in and implementing a renewable energy system, while the coexistence of private firms means that there remains a competitive element. Finally, their association with the World Bank is key, as it provides a number of investment guarantees and credit enhancement tools, reassuring investors that lenders will satisfy their responsibilities. This project is evaluated as high risk, yet inspires excitement, as it aims to be a long-standing reference for the execution of renewable energies sectors in other developing countries.

As the capital and largest urban centre in the country, Antananarivo is the centre of planning and administration of the new energy paradigm. With most of the current renewable energy companies already based there, the city will not only benefit from increased access to reliable energy, but also from an influx of jobs created by the sector. For comparison, jobs like solar installer and wind technician are projected to be the fastest growing jobs in the US.[9] Both these jobs require only high school diplomas and some on the job training. [10][11]Urban unemployment reaches 7.8% in Antananarivo and for the largely ‘unskilled’ labour force, having the opportunity to train and work in the energy sector would benefit them greatly. Additionally, the cost of photovoltaic solar energy can now deliver power less expensively with more long-term price certainty than coal-fired power. So, not only would the daily interruptions of energy cease, the price of energy will be reduced for the residents of Antananarivo.

As countries across the globe begin to focus on climate change mitigation, demand for renewable energy is expected to increase in the coming years. If Madagascar is successful in developing their renewables, this presents an opportunity for the small island nation to benefit economically by exporting its energy overseas. The International Energy Agency estimates that by 2023, renewables will meet 30% of global electricity demand.[12] If the country manages to scale up their production, renewable energy could become a driving force behind economic development and poverty alleviation. Madagascar’s economy is currently driven by the agricultural sector. As the climate changes in the coming decades, diversifying the economy will be necessary in order to shield against potential changes in agricultural output. By developing a renewable, domestic energy sector, Madagascar can shield itself from fluctuations in global markets, increase their attractiveness to investors, and empower and employ its citizens.

Lessons Learned

The carbon-based energy systems that are responsible for climate change have also been the driving force behind the creation of the world’s major cities and the industrial economies on which they’re based.[13] Being nodes of an interconnected world, they are both highly vulnerable to economic and environmental shifts, and uniquely placed to become epicentres of a new, environmentally-responsible global system. Cities in the geographical East and South can learn from the successes and challenges of Antananarivo as they chart their own path toward an environmentally sustainable and economically viable future.

For example, the financial feasibility of implementing a renewable energy sector within the country of Madagascar was, in fact, realistic and attainable. It required 60 million USD in financial support from the World Bank, and 40 million USD from private sector investment. This is not an extraordinary amount of money. However, it is important to understand that capital is not the sole factor when countries take it upon themselves to implement such a system or continue to build upon one. The challenges that the city of Antananarivo are facing are without question challenges that would translate to sparsely different geographies and political contexts. The factors such as lack of scale, lack of competition, high transaction costs, high perceived risk and cost of capital, and finally, limited institutional capacity will show up time and again in developing countries. These challenges should not act as deterrents, but rather as forces that drive innovation, like that of Scaling Solar and their collective investment program. This will propel us towards a more sustainable future that encourages the use of renewable energies while avoiding the use of conventional non-renewable energies. The world is currently in a crucial stage, and as cities within these regions of the world continue to develop, their decisions on which energy systems to invest in will greatly impact both local and global climatic variability as well as the prosperity and longevity of human health. In terms of Antananarivo, even if such a project is not as successful as possible, the investment is necessary to push our knowledge for implementation, better engineering of the product, reducing costs, and so forth. It is the financing and ambition that creates opportunity for more leapfrogging down the line, even if the project itself fails to reach the heights that have been promised.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 The World Bank. (2018). "Madagascar - Electricity Sector Operations and Governance Improvement Project : additional financing (English)".
  2. Hagan, S. (2014). "Ecological urbanism: The nature of the city Taylor and Francis". Taylor and Francis Group.
  3. Lawhon, M., Ernstson, H., & Silver, J. (2013). "Provincializing Urban Political Ecology: Towards a Situated UPE Through African Urbanism". Antipode: 497–516.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  4. Baker, S. (2006). Sustainable development. London [England];New York, NY;: Routledge. doi:10.4324/9780203495933
  5. 5.0 5.1 World Bank (2018). "The Force of the Sun: Madagascar Embarks on Renewable Energy Production".
  6. "How much electricity does an American home use?". EIA. 2019.
  7. World Bank. "EASE OF DOING BUSINESS IN Madagascar". doingbusiness.
  8. "Scaling Solar". International Finance Corporation.
  9. Marcacci, Silvio (2019). "Renewable Energy Job Boom Creates Economic Opportunity As Coal Industry Slumps". forbes.
  10. "Career Map: Wind Technician". energy.
  11. "Solar Photovoltaic Installers". bls. 2019.
  12. EIA (2018). "Renewables 2018". EIA, Paris.
  13. Hodson, M., & Marvin, S. (2010). "Urbanism in the anthropocene: Ecological urbanism or premium ecological enclaves?". City. 14(3): 298–313.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)


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