Article

Leapfrogging to Solar

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Abstract

Discussions of energy in sub-Saharan Africa tend to focus on leapfrogging, theorizing how some non-Western countries might be able to avoid carbon-intensive fuels, such as coal and oil, and directly start using renewable energy infrastructure, mainly solar. While theories of leapfrogging have been attractive, there has been limited research on how exactly renewable energy resources are adopted in sub-Saharan Africa, especially at times of unreliable access. Drawing on fieldwork with energy professionals in Accra and Tema, Ghana, this article analyzes the transformations in energy infrastructure in Ghana during the period following its 2012–16 electricity crisis, known as dumsor. It argues that an increasing volume of rooftop solar panels installed by affiuent individuals and institutions in the aftermath of the crisis has led to declining participation in the electricity grid, and thereby higher electricity rates for everyone else with no choice but to remain on the grid. In response to such growing inequality, decision-makers searched for innovative business models, appealing to green loans as ways of expanding this class of solar consumers. As a result, while a select few have managed to leapfrog to renewables, others continue to endure the grid, struggling with unsteady electricity provision and increasing tariffs.

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