Leapfrogging to Solar

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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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... On a related subject, see Cirolia et al. (2021), Günel (2021), Lemanski (2021), Cirolia and Pollio (forthcoming). 6 In this article we are not concerned with (nor would we have the data for) defining the sociological contours of this demographic category (the lower-middle class) but we treat it as an emic category that our informants used to describe an under-served market and therefore an opportunity for processes of algorithmic optimization. ...
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The growth of climate finance, a field of investment focused on funding climate change adaptation and mitigation projects, both legitimizes and transforms financial flows. Green bonds, a financial product within climate finance, redirect investments from institutional investors into low-carbon infrastructure through the global bond market. These projects include clean energy, water infrastructure, public transportation, and sustainable forest management. The green bond market expands the scope of finance through the commoditization of the environment, as nature enters into financial markets as the added value of green bonds. In interpreting the environmental and economic value of forests, greener building methods, and public transportation, climate finance practitioners translate environmental, climate, and engineering expertise into the language of finance through the use of the term risk. However, these translations into risk require further risk management, promoting the production of green bond market devices such as standards and market indices. The ambiguity of risk supports these translations, creating a credible form of change within finance that legitimizes the development of the green bond market. This use of risk complicates its meaning and thus requires further examination beyond research already done in the social sciences on societal and individual dimensions of risk.
At the end of 2010, the British Museum unveiled the final artefact in their exhibition 'A History of the World in 100 Objects': a portable solar-powered lamp designed for and sold to people living without access to mains electricity in Africa and Asia. Solar-powered lights have become iconic objects of social entrepreneurship in Africa and Asia and this article explores the work involved in producing them as humanitarian goods. Following the 100th object from its conception in a Stanford University classroom to points of sale and use in rural India, the article explores how it has been made to materialise both an ethic of care and an ethic of commercial interest. Drawing from traditions in the social study of technology and the conceptual vocabulary of Michel Callon, the author argues that the significance of objects like the ultra-affordable solar lamp lies in their capacity to make and define markets at the 'bottom of the pyramid'.
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