Electrical citizenship and the democratic infrastructures of sustainable development

Authors: Jonathan Balls*, University of Melbourne, Harry Fischer, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
Topics: Development, Energy, Environment
Keywords: energy, citizenship, democracy, solar, energy access, India
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 5:20 PM / 7:00 PM
Room: Evergreen, Sheraton, 4th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Democratic populism, expressed through a mixture of subsidies, interference in the running of electricity distribution companies, and the shielding of theft, has for decades compromised the ability of the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh to create a financially viable electrical sector, that provides reliable electricity to the public. In this context, in recent years, small private businesses and social enterprises have begun to set-up solar micro-grids to serve rural consumers. These businesses, which are bringing new expertise and technical efficiency, are lightly regulated and often seek to avoid ‘politics’ in the delivery of electricity. In the coming years, increasing numbers of people in Uttar Pradesh are likely to have the option to buy electricity from such businesses. Yet the delivery of electricity, in an apolitical manner collapses the fundamental relationship between citizens and the state for the provision of electricity, undermining the political relationships by which it may be claimed as a broadly accessible public service.
In this paper, we argue that both of these arrangements - the centralised, state-run grid and decentralised, private micro-grids - have significant limitations in their ability to enable substantial gains in inclusive, sustainable, and democratic energy development. We frame electricity provision as fundamentally a question of citizenship. Analysing electricity in terms of citizenship focuses attention on how democratic belonging is produced in and through access to electricity, and lays the conceptual groundwork upon which to explore interventions and political relationships that might advance energy access and energy transition goals.

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