Powering the Slum: Exploring Alternative Forms of Energy for Informal Settlements

Wednesday March 13, 2024 9:00am to 10:00am

Join the Penn Institute for Urban Research for a conversation exploring efforts to introduce renewable energy to informal settlements in Accra, Ghana. Presented by Penn IUR Fellow James Kwame Mensah in conversation with Penn IUR Co-Director Eugénie Birch, this event builds on the new policy digest published by the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy.

Ghana’s electrical system is not only highly reliant on fossil fuels (66 percent of the total) but also does not meet demand due to rapid population growth, especially in the country’s urban informal settlements. This widespread lack of affordable and reliable energy severely limits informal settlers’ capacity to leap out of poverty and live safe, healthy, and productive lives. How can the energy generation mix be diversified to yield the most affordable, reliable, and sustainable energy in informal settlements?


James Kwame Mensah

Senior Lecturer in the Department of Public Administration

University of Ghana Business School

Dr. James Kwame Mensah is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Public Administration at the University of Ghana Business School. Dr. Mensah also served as the Chief Local Economic Development and Resilient Advisor to the Accra Metropolitan Assembly where he played a major role in the development of Accra’s Resilient Strategy. Dr. Mensah’s research focuses on urban resilience, sustainable development and the development of local economies to improve the quality of life for all residents in local and rural communities. Dr. Mensah is also researching in the area of urban informality in its multiple dimensions― economy, informal settlements, and livelihood, among others. His research publications have appeared in top-tier journals including Resources Policy, Energy Research and Social Science, International Review of Administrative Sciences, Urban Forum, Public Organisations Review, and International Journal of Public Administration.

Dr. Mensah has consulted for several organisations including C40 Cities, GIZ, Women in Informal Employment: Globalising and Organising (WIEGO), United Cities and Local Government Africa (UCLGA), Commonwealth Local Government Forum (CLGF), 100 Resilient Cities (100RC), and Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM).

In 2022, He was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum and a Dangote Africa Fellow. Dr. Mensah has won several internal (e.g. UGBS Research Grant) and international research grants (e.g. AXA Research Grant - € 250,000; IGC Grant – £ 30,000; Kleinman Center for Energy Policy grant).

Eugenie Birch (moderator)

Lawrence C. Nussdorf Chair of Urban Research and Education and Co-Director

Penn Institute for Urban Research

Eugenie L. Birch is the Lawrence C. Nussdorf Chair of Urban Research and Education and Co-Director of the Penn Institute for Urban Research. She teaches courses in global urbanization and the doctoral seminar and serves as chair, Graduate Group in City and Regional Planning, co-director, Penn Institute for Urban Research, co-editor, City in the 21st Century Series, University of Penn Press and co-editor, SSRN Urban Research e-journal.

Professor Birch has been active in the field’s professional and civic organizations in the United States and abroad. She is president, General Assembly of Partners (GAP), the engagement platform for the implementation of the UN’s New Urban Agenda and associated global agreements, co-chair, Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) Thematic Group on Cities, and an Associate Editor, Journal of the American Planning Association. In the past, she has been president, Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning; president, Society of American City and Regional Planning History; president, International Planning History Society; and co-editor, Journal of the American Planning Association. She has been a member of the Planning Accreditation Board, having served as its chair from 2004-2006. She has been a member of the editorial boards of Planning Theory and Practice, Journal of Planning History, Journal of Planning Education and Research and Planning Perspectives. In the early 1990s, she was a member of the New York City Planning Commission, and in 2002, she served on the jury to select the designers for the World Trade Center site. She has chaired the Board of Trustees of the Municipal Art Society of New York and is currently a member of the Board of Trustees of the Regional Plan Association of New York.