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The Role of China in Rescaling Service Delivery in Urban Africa

RESEARCH Working Paper by Liza Cirolia and Rifquah Hendricks
Solar panels in Africa

The energy transition in African cities marks a key site of geopolitical competition, as China's control of the solar market reshapes urban service delivery.

The current African energy transition is a key site where global politics will be played out. In the current moment, with African cities growing quickly and Africa’s largest cities dominating national and regional economies, this is necessarily an urban question. In this piece, we explore China’s role in Africa’s energy transition.

Since our main interest is in the urban scale, we focus on the ways in which China’s contribution to value chains (particularly manufacturing and logistics) related to solar panels is contributing to the rescaling of urban energy systems and a transition to more distributed and decentralized energy systems and value chains.

We ask: how is China’s control over solar panels and product value chains shaping cities? And how might this process create new sites of geopolitical tension? We situate this conversation in the context of Africa’s fragmented urban fabrics, and the rise of decentralized and distributed technologies in Africa.

About the Authors
Liza Cirolia
Senior Researcher, African Centre for Cities
Liza Cirolia
Liza Cirolia's research areas include urban governance, subnational finance, and infrastructure. She teaches on ACC’s Master in Sustainable Urban Practice (MSUP) and consults for local and international organizations.
Liza Cirolia
Rifquah Hendricks
Senior Social Consultant
Rifquah Hendricks
Rifquah Hendricks is a senior social consultant in the infrastructure sector. She has in-house, consulting, and advisory experience across the energy and mining value chains. She focuses on social development, inclusive procurement, transformation, and the just transition.
Rifquah Hendricks