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Energy Transitions in the Global South
There has been profound growth in the adoption of off-grid solar devices across Sub-Saharan Africa over the last decade. However, there has been limited attention given to the afterlives of these devices and their justice implications. This is of particular concern as these increasing rates of off-grid solar adoption are across contexts in which regulatory mechanisms and e-waste infrastructure are weak or non-existent, leaving populations exposed to a range of social and ecological harms. In this paper, we examine upon research from Malawi to draw attention to the spatial and ethical dimensions of off-grid solar repair and e-waste. We demonstrate how a two-tiered off-grid solar market, regional flows, and usage practice, result in ethically complex outcomes. We emphasize how strengthening the social and material infrastructures of repair, epi-tomised by the role of informal repair technicians, are vital to extending the productive lifespans of off-grid solar devices in comparable settings.
Pacific Island Countries and Territories have set ambitious targets for energy access and the transition to sustainable energy. These efforts, however, are being severely impacted by shocks and stresses such as climate change, natural hazards and the COVID-19 pandemic. Resilience is a central pillar for energy policy in the region, but innovative approaches are needed to address these urgent challenges. Here we examine the role of research and innovation in supporting energy resilience in Pacific Island Countries and Territories. We argue that research and innovation in three key areas is needed: energy planning and innovative finance approaches tailored to the particular strengths and challenges in Pacific Island Countries and Territories; greater recognition and inclusion of community responses to energy challenges; and promotion of decentralized approaches to energy in terms of governance and technologies. Emerging from these three areas, we identify 11 research and innovation priorities to build the evidence base that will mobilize stakeholders in a collaborative effort to accelerate action on energy resilience. Pacific Island Countries and Territories are seeking to improve their energy systems, which face challenges such as climate change. This Perspective discusses research priorities to support Pacific Island Countries and Territories in building energy resilience while drawing on their own unique strengths and existing community responses.
In this article, I develop a political ecology analysis of Vanuatu’s grid electricity policies, with a specific focus on Espiritu Santo Island. I show how the global political economy looms large in shaping the island’s energy geographies. Colonial legacies, ideologically conflictive donor aid programmes, multinational corporate legal discords, parliamentary political caprices and the vicissitudes of the local environment all intersect to shape the spatial dynamics of electricity access that raises numerous energy justice concerns. The development of the island’s electricity infrastructure is not neutral; rather, it is a socio-technical product of these political economy mediations.
Solar products are increasingly framed as being integral to addressing energy poverty in the Global South. This is especially the case in sub-Saharan Africa where the promise of centralized grids has given way to an emphasis on off-grid market-based solutions. While these solutions promise much, the quality and originality of these products is often contested. In this paper, we draw upon ethnographic insights from Malawi’s solar market to examine the energy justice implications of this deepening reliance on markets to provide energy for poor populations with no access to electricity. Specifically, we examine the ethics and implications of ‘somewhat original’ solar – an amorphous product category that constitutes the vast majority of solar products sold in the Global South. Analysing Malawi’s solar market, this paper illustrates how moral claims about off-grid solar products often sit incongruously with the realities of global supply chains and poor market regulation. We conclude that while off-grid solar products offer the energy poor some respite from darkness, they are, nonetheless, commodities that are prone to reproducing structural forms of injustice and do not, always, represent a sustainable solution to energy poverty in the Global South.
This paper builds on heterogeneous infrastructures scholarship to examine urban electricity access geographies in the Global South. I propose the notion of urban bricoleurs to help understand how the urban poor negotiate changing electrical infrastructure opportunities. Using a Ugandan case study, I present socio-electric stories of residents to show how electricity supply is derived from an eclectic range of sources, and how accessing these sources is negotiated through socio-economic dynamics. These stories suggest that key to understanding heterogeneous infrastructures is recognizing the role that urban inhabitants have in negotiating infrastructure through different movements and connectivities. That the urban poor are best understood as bricoleurs, making creative use of whatever materials are at hand to realize their livelihood needs. This allows a conceptual shift from defining African urban electrical geographies as a failure of achieving grid access, to focusing on how urban residents craft out imperfect, yet functioning, socio-electric lives.
Historically, “energy poverty” in Sub-Saharan Africa has been understood in relatively static terms and its solutions largely understood as a modernist state-led project of expanding centralised distribution to achieve a coordinated ‘transition’ from traditional fuels. In recent decades, however, political economies of energy in the region have exhibited considerable dynamism, changing what energy poverty looks like. The rapid dissemination of mobile phones, for example, has meant that most households now require near daily access to some form of electricity, inducing creative local responses. As well, with increased Sino-African trade, a plethora of cheap lighting products such as dry-cell battery torches and small-scale solar products have become widely available, reducing consumer interest in kerosene lamps and fuel. Finally, charcoal has emerged as a key cooking fuel for growing urban populations – introducing a new/expanded source of rural revenue while disrupting a decades long official campaign to induce ‘transition’ from firewood to LPG. We demonstrate how these particular changes are occurring through the example of dynamics in Sierra Leone in West Africa.