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Visiting Associate Professor
Name: Robert Byrne
Location: JBS Offices, 5th Floor Johannesburg Business School
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Contact Details:
Tel: 011 559 1808


About Dr Robert Byrne

I came to academia relatively late in my working life, having taken something of a meandering path along the way. That path included working in a wide variety of jobs – amongst others, shop assistant, gardener, cleaner, office clerk, fence maker, warehouse worker, entrepreneur – and a couple of stints of long-term travel (US, Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, India and Pakistan).

My professional working life had a false start following a Higher National Diploma in Electrical and Electronic Engineering (Hatfield Polytechnic, now the University of Hertfordshire) when I worked as a maintenance technician at Sarm Studios in London (slightly before my time, but this is where, at its former location in Basing Street, the Band Aid single Do They Know It’s Christmas? was recorded). Once I realised the recording business was not for me, I took off to do that long-term travel.

During my travels in India, I read E.F. Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful and saw some appropriate technology installations in Ladakh, inspiring me to train in this kind of work. After returning to the UK, I managed to get a place on the University of Warwick degree in Engineering Design and Appropriate Technology (1992-1996) – a degree that is, sadly, no longer offered – and worked for a year in Botswana during this (at the Rural Industries Innovation Centre in Kanye). After graduation, I worked as an engineer at the Centre for Alternative Technology near Machynlleth in Wales and from this was lucky enough to get a job managing a project in a small NGO in northern Tanzania (1997-2000) where we were attempting to make solar PV systems more accessible to poorer Tanzanians.

The experience in Tanzania later inspired me to study for a masters and PhD at the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) (2004-2011), and the motivation for my PhD topic was to understand why solar PV – or solar home systems as they became known – were adopted in much greater numbers in Kenya than in Tanzania. That masters and PhD work has formed the bedrock of everything I have been doing since, and I have continued to be employed at SPRU. My main focus of work is sustainable energy access but, informed especially by my time working in the STEPS Centre and my masters training in Science and Technology Policy, I have expanded my research interests to include, amongst others, the politics and political economy of science, technology and innovation policy in sub-Saharan Africa. And these research interests inform my teaching and PhD supervision. I continue to teach on energy and development but have also developed and taught modules in sustainability and low carbon development, and supervise several PhD students in energy, development and sustainability.

Over the years, I have participated in several other initiatives. I have been co-convening (with David Ockwell) the energy and climate change work of the STEPS Centre, coordinated the energy and emissions theme (for Sussex and Southampton) of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, represented Sussex on the Tyndall Council, and convened several seminar groups within SPRU (e.g. the technology and development group, development group). I am a member of the Sussex Energy Group, Climate Strategies and the Low Carbon Energy for Development Network. And I play an active role in the Transformative Innovation Policy Consortium.


Journal papers

1. Byrne, R., Mbeva, K., & Ockwell, D. (2018). A political economy of niche-building: Neoliberal-developmental encounters in photovoltaic electrification in Kenya. Energy Research & Social Science, 44, 6-16.

2. Chataway, J., Dobson, C., Daniels, C., Byrne, R., Tigabu, A., & Hanlin, R. (2019). Science Granting Councils in Sub-Saharan Africa: Trends and tensions [Open access]. Science and Public Policy, 46(4), 620–631.

3. Ely, A., Marin, A., Charli-Joseph, L., Abrol, D., Apgar, M., Atela, J., Ayre, B., Byrne, R., Choudhary, B. K., Chengo, V., Cremaschi, A., Davis, R., Desai, P., Eakin, H., Kushwaha, P., Marshall, F., Mbeva, K., Ndege, N., Ochieng, C., Ockwell, D., Olsson, P., Oxley, N., Pereira, L., Priya, R., Tigabu, A., Van Zwanenberg, P., & Yang, L. (2020). Structured Collaboration Across a Transformative Knowledge Network—Learning Across Disciplines, Cultures and Contexts? Sustainability, 12(6), 2499.

4. Marshall, M., Ockwell, D., & Byrne, R. (2017). Sustainable energy for all or sustainable energy for men? Gender and the construction of identity within climate technology entrepreneurship in Kenya. Progress in Development Studies, 17(2), 148-172.

5. Ockwell, D., Atela, J., Mbeva, K., Chengo, V., Byrne, R., Durrant, R., Kasprowicz, V., & Ely, A. (2019). Can Pay-As-You-Go, Digitally Enabled Business Models Support Sustainability Transformations in Developing Countries? Outstanding Questions and a Theoretical Basis for Future Research [Gold open access]. Sustainability, 11(7).

6. Ockwell, D., & Byrne, R. (2016). Improving technology transfer through national systems of innovation: climate relevant innovation-system builders (CRIBs). Climate Policy, 16(7), 836-854.

7. Ockwell, D., Byrne, R., Hansen, U. E., Haselip, J., & Nygaard, I. (2018). The uptake and diffusion of solar power in Africa: Socio-cultural and political insights on a rapidly emerging socio-technical transition. Energy Research & Social Science, 44, 122-129.

8. Rolffs, P., Ockwell, D., & Byrne, R. (2015). Beyond technology and finance: pay-as-you-go sustainable energy access and theories of social change. Environment and Planning A, 47(12), 2609-2627.×15615368

9. Ting, M. B., & Byrne, R. (2020). Eskom and the rise of renewables: Regime-resistance, crisis and the strategy of incumbency in South Africa’s electricity system. Energy Research & Social Science, 60, 101333.

10. Watson, J., Byrne, R., Ockwell, D., & Stua, M. (2015). Lessons from China: building technological capabilities for low carbon technology transfer and development. Climatic Change, 131(3), 387-399.


Ockwell, D., & Byrne, R. (2017). Sustainable Energy for All: Innovation, Technology and Pro-Poor Green Transformations. Routledge.


Byrne, R. (2011). Learning drivers: rural electrification regime building in Kenya and Tanzania University of Sussex]. Brighton.

Book chapters

1. Byrne, R. (2013). Low Carbon Development in Tanzania: Lessons from its Solar Home System Market. In F. Urban & J. Nordensvärd (Eds.), Low Carbon Development: Key Issues (pp. 240-255). Earthscan from Routledge.

2. Byrne, R., Smith, A., Watson, J., & Ockwell, D. (2012). Energy Pathways in Low-Carbon Development: The Need to Go beyond Technology Transfer. In D. Ockwell & A. Mallett (Eds.), Low-Carbon Technology Transfer: From Rhetoric to Reality (pp. 123-142). Earthscan from Routledge.

3. Ockwell, D., & Byrne, R. (2018). Socio-technical innovation systems: a new way forward for pro-poor energy access policy and practice. In S. Bhattacharyya (Ed.), Routledge Handbook of Energy in Asia (pp. 409-422). Routledge.

4. Ockwell, D., Byrne, R., Urama, K., Ozor, N., Kirumba, E., Ely, A., Becker, S., & Gollwitzer, L. (2017). Debunking free market myths: transforming pro-poor, sustainable energy access for climate compatible development. In F. Nunan (Ed.), Making climate compatible development happen (pp. 130-150). Routledge.

5. Watson, J., & Byrne, R. (2012). Low-Carbon Innovation in China: The Role of International Technology Transfer. In D. Ockwell & A. Mallett (Eds.), Low-Carbon Technology Transfer: From Rhetoric to Reality (pp. 63-84). Earthscan from Routledge.

Working papers

1. Byrne, R., Ockwell, D., Urama, K., Ozor, N., Kirumba, E., Ely, A., Becker, S., & Gollwitzer, L. (2014). Sustainable energy for whom? Governing pro-poor, low carbon pathways to development: Lessons from solar PV in Kenya.

2. Byrne, R., Onsongo, E., Onjala, B., Chengo, V., Fodio Todd, J., Ockwell, D., & Atela, J. (2020). Electric cooking in Kenya: an actor-network map and analysis of a nascent socio-technical innovation system.

3. Byrne, R., Onsongo, E., Onjala, B., Fodio Todd, J., Chengo, V., Ockwell, D., & Atela, J. (2020). Electric cooking in Tanzania: an actor-network map and analysis of a nascent socio-technical innovation system.

4. Ockwell, D., Byrne, R., Chengo, V., Onsongo, E., Fodio Todd, J., & Atela, J. (2019). Transforming Access to Clean Technology: Learning from Lighting Africa.


1.Bhasin, S., Blanco, G., Bristow, S., Byrne, R., Cameron, L., de Coninck, H., Fang, Z., Gallagher, K. S., Ionita, R., Mikunda, T., Sagar, A., & Würtenberger, L. (2014). Climate technology in context: Synthesis Report on Climate Technology and Development. Climate Strategies.—final.pdf

2. Chataway, J., Ochieng, C., Byrne, R., Daniels, C., Dobson, C., Hanlin, R., & Hopkins, M. (2017). Case Studies of the Political Economy of Science Granting Councils in Sub-Saharan Africa. International Development Research Centre.

3. Daniels, C., Byrne, R., Hanlin, R., Pointel, S., & Numi, A. (2020). Updating the Case studies of the Political Economy of Science Granting Councils in Sub-Saharan Africa: Full Report. International Development Research Centre.

4. Watson, J., Byrne, R., Mallett, A., Stua, M., Ockwell, D., Xiliang, Z., Da, Z., Tianhou, Z., Xiaofeng, Z., & Xunmin, O. (2011). UK-China Collaborative Study on Low Carbon Technology Transfer [Report for the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change].

5. Watson, J., Byrne, R., Morgan-Jones, M., Tsang, F., Opazo, J., Fry, C., & Castle-Clarke, S. (2012). What are the major barriers to increased use of modern energy services amothe world’s poorest people and are interventions to overcome these effective? [CEE Review].