From uncertainties to chaotic energy futures? Spatial patterns of decentralized solar PV systems, social practices and energy governance in Kenya

Authors: Festus Boamah*, University of Bayreuth
Topics: Energy, Social Geography
Keywords: Solar Home Systems; Energy Practices; Energy Transition; Socio-technical Transitions; Energy Policy; Kenya.
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

Strenuous efforts by African governments to achieve universal electricity access, echoed by the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, have provided impetus for off-grid electricity provision in peripheral/isolated locations where centralized grid-based electricity provision is very expensive, slow to achieve and often inefficient. Government incentives for solar energy market and the provision of better centralized electricity services to richer/urban and densely-populated areas of Kenya are producing new social practices requiring the use of appliances easily enabled by decentralized solar PV systems in peripheral/sparsely populated locations where people feel uncertain about grid-based electricity extension or the quality of electricity supply. Spatial variations in population distribution, socio-economic conditions, social justice and politics thus shape the adaptation to decentralized solar PV systems but energy transition studies rarely employ ethnographic approaches to examine how and why the social practices of particular social groups become woven into, interlinked and co-produced with adaptation processes. Using an ethnographic study of 35 households in Kenya, we present evidence to suggest that the transition to decentralized solar PV systems is an expression of societal quest for autonomy to circumvent uncertainties associated with centralized/state-controlled electricity provision. The solar PV transition and the resultant social practices indeed provide avenues to sustain energy visions of particular persons, the possibility of the state ceding its authority to ‘non-state’ actors in electricity governance in the periphery and the implications for Kenya’s energy futures is worth investigating. The paper draws attention to chaotic energy futures that may result from the solar PV euphoria in Africa.

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