ArticlePDF Available

Off-Grid Electrical Urbanism: Emerging Solar Energy Geographies in Ordinary Cities

Full Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found at
Journal of Urban Technology
ISSN: (Print) (Online) Journal homepage:
Off-Grid Electrical Urbanism: Emerging Solar
Energy Geographies in Ordinary Cities
Paul G Munro & Shanil Samarakoon
To cite this article: Paul G Munro & Shanil Samarakoon (2022): Off-Grid Electrical Urbanism:
Emerging Solar Energy Geographies in Ordinary Cities, Journal of Urban Technology, DOI:
To link to this article:
Published online: 12 Jul 2022.
Submit your article to this journal
View related articles
View Crossmark data
O-Grid Electrical Urbanism: Emerging Solar Energy
Geographies in Ordinary Cities
Paul G Munro
and Shanil Samarakoon
Faculty of Arts, Design, and Architecture University of New South Wales;
Collaboration on Energy and
Environmental Markets Faculty of Arts, Design, and Architecture, University of New South Wales
O-grid solar products, which are typically positioned as a solution
to rural energy poverty, have experienced rapid sales growth in
urban centers across the Global South over the last decade. In this
article, we critically examine the rapidly emerging o-grid
electrical urbanism in the Global South, with a focus on how o-
grid solar technologies are reshaping urban energy geographies in
ordinary cities.We document how forms of o-grid electrical
urbanisms have emerged as a response to urban energy poverty,
drawing on case study insights from Gulu (Uganda), Mzuzu
(Malawi), and Luganville (Vanuatu). In doing so, we demonstrate
how the ow of o-grid solar products are shaped by a range of
diering political economiesincluding nancial ows, migration
dynamics, and regional aid programs. We go on to argue that o-
grid electrical urbanism, in its current form, is largely underpinned
by a marketized model of energy infrastructure disseminating. A
model that tends to reproduce geographies of energy inequality.
hybrid infrastructure;
infrastructure; secondary
cities; o-grid solar; Vanuatu;
Uganda; Malawi
Over the past decade, an o-grid solar market has rapidly grown across the Global South.
Comprised predominantly of small-scale (pico) photovoltaic products, such as solar lan-
terns and solar home systems (SHS), this market had an initial boom in East Africa, and
is now rapidly spreading to other parts of sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Latin America, and
the South Pacic. A recent report published by the Global O-Grid Lighting Association
(GOGLA)the global association for the o-grid solar energy industryhas tracked this
rise in some detail, calculating that the sector has grown from around 200,000 solar pro-
ducts being sold in the year 2010 to more than 35 million sold in 2019, making it a US
$1.75 billion annual market, which remains on a solid growth curve(GOGLA, 2020: 2).
There has been a photovoltaic turnin the Global South, as solar products have shifted
from being an expensive niche technology to being a common item in Global South
markets and shops (Munro, 2020; Cross and Neumark, 2021). O-grid solar products
have been commonly framed as a technological solution that addresses rural energy
poverty (Jaglin, 2019). Certainly, o-grid solar products themselves were designed as a
solution to rural electricity access (Akrich, 1992; Cross, 2013), and many o-grid solar
© 2022 The Society of Urban Technology
CONTACT Paul Munro
enterprises frame their work as oering last mile distributionto cash-constrained
rural o-grid customers(GOGLA, 2020). Even the name o-grid solar implies a geo-
graphical designation that the technologies are to be used in locations where the electrical
grid is absent. Nevertheless, as Jaglin (2019) notes, despite such a rural idiom, o-grid
solar products will ultimately play a key role in urban electrical futures due to a range
of political and economic dynamics. Indeed, o-grid solar products are already ubiqui-
tous in Global South urban centers, despite the existing presence of grid electricity
(Jaglin, 2019; Rateau and Jaglin, 2022; Walton and Ford, 2020; Munro, 2020; Samara-
koon, 2020).
In this article, we critically examine this recent and rapidly emerging o-grid electrical
urbanism in the Global South, with a focus on how it is reshaping urban energy geogra-
phies. We are interested in how technologies and their socio-natural environments are
co-produced by a combination of heterogeneous factors (Jaglin 2014; Castán Broto,
2019) We focus on the dynamics of o-grid solar in the context of what Jennifer Robin-
son (2002) frames as ordinary cities”—and more specically small ordinary citieswith
our case study analysis focused on relatively small urban centers that are not metropoles
of political or economic power. As has been noted, small urban spaces have tended to be
neglected in urban studies (Bell and Jayne, 2009; De Boeck, 2010; Hodson and Marvin,
2011; Zérah, and Denis, 2017; Koechlin and Förster, 2018), despite being home to more
than half of the worlds urban population (Massin, 2019). We are, therefore, attentive to
understanding what insights the ordinaryspace of small urban centers in the Global
South can oer in terms of the dynamics of rapidly o-grid solar markets. And, some-
what inversely we ask: How does the lens of o-grid solar technologies oer new
ways for understanding ordinary city energyscapes in the Global South?Our o-grid
electrical urbanism framing provides an analytical means from which to reconceptualize
urban energy geographies.
We draw on three urban case studies to animate our analysis, two from sub-Saharan
Africa, and one from the South Pacic: (1) Gulu (Uganda); (2) Mzuzu (Malawi); and (3)
Luganville (Vanuatu). While these may be both smalland ordinarycities, they are
not homogenous, and as will be explored in this article each has its distinct geographies,
histories, and dynamics that shape its urban praxis. Nevertheless, all three cities experi-
ence insucient grid electricity access and are the sites of rapidly growing o-grid solar
markets, hence their pertinence as case studies. The data for this article draw from three
separate research projectsone at each of the case study sitesthat were conducted
between the years 2017 and 2020. Each of the projects involved ethnographic obser-
vations at the urban sites, which included semi-structured interviews with representa-
tives from the o-grid solar sector, the broader energy sector (e.g., government
ocials, charity sector) and households. The research relating to Gulu was conducted
in 2017 and 2018 and involved 20 interviews with companies working in the o-grid
sector. The research in Mzuzu was conducted in 2019 and featured 13 interviews with
a range of o-grid solar users (households and small businesses) and a senior energy
policy expert, as well as a community discussion group on o-grid solar use in the
suburb of Msasa with 18 household participants. The research in Luganville was con-
ducted in 2020, and involved eight interviews with stakeholders working in, or engaging
with, the o-grid electricity sector. Interviews from the three projects were all tran-
scribed, coded, and analyzed. All three projects also involved in-depth reviews of relevant
literature (e.g., academic, policy, newspapers) relating to the case studys energy
dynamics. All three case study projects had research ethics clearance from the University
of New South Wales [BLINDED FOR PEER-REVIEW] (Ethics approval number:
In the next section of the article, Infrastructural Urban Energyscapes,we develop a
conceptual framing for the article, through a critical review of literature on Global South
urbanism infrastructure, as well as contextualizing the rapidly growing o-grid solar
market. After that, we provide a narrative of the (o-grid) electricity geographies in
each of the three case study cities, which is then followed by an analysis of key o-
grid electrical urban themes. We conclude in a nal section.
Infrastructural Urban Energyscapes
The belief in a modern infrastructural ideal,whereby infrastructure (e.g., electricity,
water, sewerage) is uniformly delivered to urban residents by a centralized network is dis-
rupted by the infrastructural geographies of cities in the Global South (Kooy and Bakker,
2008; Furlong, 2014; Baptista, 2015; Lawhon et al., 2018; Guma, 2020).Electricity, and its
infrastructure, often form a critical part of this urban modernity vision, with grid elec-
tricity infrastructure expansion being a key policy focus of most governments in the
Global South. Nevertheless, while the network cityis still a powerful and inuential
ideal for urban planning in the Global South, in praxis the service needs of urban resi-
dents are obtained from a range of heterogeneous and/or hybridized infrastructures
and technologies (Jaglin, 2015; Monstadt and Schramm, 2017; Lawhon et al., 2018;
Smith, 2019; Castán Broto, 2019). Alongside conventional utilities, infrastructure pro-
vision is realized through the work of many small-scale operators, involving local
privateactors such as small rms, Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) and Com-
munity-Based Organization and individuals, relying on makeshift low-cost technologies
and informal local institutions (Jaglin, 2014). Socio-technical diversity is thus a dening
feature of Global South infrastructure geographies (Jaglin, 2014). Appreciating these
dynamics allows for a conceptual shift that moves a normative understanding of
Global South urbanism as an unnished modernist project, to an analysis that highlights
the agency of the urban residents in shaping their own infrastructural and service needs
(Castán Broto, 2019). As Lawhon and Truelove (2020) argue, there is a need to situate
urban understandings in rich contexts, thus moving beyond Western-centric under-
standings of what urban space is. This means that more attention should be drawn
toward the creative and dynamic ways that Global South cities actually function
(Lawhon et al., 2014; Castán Broto, 2017,2019,2020; de Bercegol and Monstadt, 2018;
Munro, 2020; Watt, 2020; Robin and Castán Broto, 2021). There is a need for greater situ-
ated understandings of the what,how, and why relating to urban infrastructure
Robinsons(2002,2006)notionofordinary cities,building on Amin and Grahams
(1997) terminology, has oered a conceptual entry to rethink the urban. She critiques the
global and world city approaches that have dominated the eld of urban studies, noting
that there are a large number of cities around the world which do not register on intellec-
tual maps that chart the rise and fall of global and world cities. They dontfallintoeitherof
these categories and they probably never will(Robinson, 2002: 531). Instead, such cities in
the Global South have tended to be problematically evaluated through the lens of develop-
mentalism”—a narrow conception of what a city shouldlook like. Robinson (2006), in
promoting the idea of ordinary cities,asks for urban theory that reects the experiences
of a much wider range of cities, appreciating all their complexity, diversity, and peculiarity.
Although the notion of ordinary citiesis not a form of urban typology (and includes a
focus on larger non-metropole cities), implicit to Robinsons argument is that more atten-
tion also needs to be paid to smaller cities (cf., Bryson et al., 2021a,2021b). These smaller
cities are pertinent for studies on infrastructural dynamics because they tend to be situated
at the margin of the state, meaning that their political and economic spheres are more likely
to be shaped by the rhythms of local commerce, trading routes, smuggling networks, and
the vagaries of shifting political alliances (De Boeck et al., 2010). They are spaces worthy
of analytical and empirical attention in urban studies scholarship, not least because these
cities (i.e., cities with less than 500,000 inhabitants) represents just over half of the
worlds urban population (Massin, 2019).
Ensuring universal access to grid electricity is a key infrastructural policy tension
across many small urban centers in the Global South. According to the International
Energy Agency (IEA), in 2018 around 5 percent of the worlds urban population
lacked direct access to (grid) electricity. Sub-Saharan Africa, as a region, was recorded
as having the lowest urban electricity access rates, with an estimated 16 percent of the
urban population living with direct access to electricity. However, there is great variation
within the region. For example, in South Africa less than 5 percent of the countrys urban
population are without direct access to electricity, while in South Sudan it is more than 95
percent (IEA, 2020). In Uganda and Malawi (two of the case studies in this article), only
36.9 percent and 38.5 percent of urban residents are reportedly living with direct access to
the electrical grid (IEA, 2020). Vanuatu has been noted has having one of the highest
levels of acute electricity inaccessibility issues in the South Pacic region (Dornan,
2014), with roughly around 20 percent of urban residents living without direct access
to grid electricity (VNSO, 2016; Munro, 2020). These statistical snapshots, however,
only provide a one-dimensional perspective of electricity access (Munro and Schier,
2019; Munro et al., 2020). There are great variations in access between dierent urban
centers within each country. Furthermore, infrastructural inequalities can also emerge
within grid electrical networks due to dierent governance and payment strategies
(Pilo 2021), the voltage quality of supply (Jacome et al., 2019), and power outages
(e.g., load shedding) (Ghanem, 2018; Silver, 2015; Munro, 2020; Rateau and Jaglin,
2022). This is something that the Global O-Grid Lighting Association (GOGLA) has
observed in its most recent report, in which it recognizes that the total potential
market as a result of unreliable grid exceeds one billion peopleand indeed how the
unreliable grid market is increasingly being tapped into by OGS [o-grid solar] products
(GOGLA, 2020: 16; emphasis added).
The o-grid urban and unreliable grid urban population have thus become key target
markets for o-grid solar products. The diusion of o-grid solar into markets in the
Global South has tended to take two distinct congurations (Samarakoon, 2020). The
rst has been through the work of social enterprise start-ups (Cross, 2019), who are
usually members of GOGLA, an international industry representation body that was set
up in 2012 with support from the World Bank. These companies have been involved in
selling clearly branded products that have been certied by peak bodies (e.g., Verasol)
what GOGLA (2020) describes as aliated products(see Samarakoon, 2020)and
operate with sophisticated websites promoting their products, usually with rhetoric
around green technology and solving the issue of energy poverty (Samarakoon et al.,
2020). In addition to o-grid solar product development, these start-ups are also often
engaged in strategies to nance and facilitate their distribution. Most prominently, this
has included the development of Pay-As-You-Go (PAYG) solar, a remote locking technol-
ogy that allows solar enterprises to render the use of their solar products useless unless
regular payments (usually via mobile money) are made by the purchaser (cf., Rols
et al., 2015; Barrie and Cruickshank, 2017; Ockwell et al., 2019; Barry and Cretti, 2020).
As Cross and Neumark (2021: 906) note, these products are ultimately underpinned by
a complex socio-technical apparatus for lending, collecting, and monitoring repayments,
and for producing creditworthy consumers.These companies have had considerable
success in attracting international funding for their operations, receiving an estimated
US$1.5 billion in (equity and debt) investment between 2012 and 2019 (GOGLA, 2020;
Cross and Neumark, 2021). The debt and equity investments underpinning these start-
upo-grid companies have mainly come from investors in North America and Europe
some of these companies, for example, have their main oces in San Francisco and
have direct links to the venture capital eco-system of Silicon Valley. Most of the companies
in this part of the sector are not yet protable, but instead are nancing their operations
from their debt and equity investments (Munro, 2020; Cross and Neumark, 2021). It is
approximated that these aliated productsmake up around 30 percent of the o-grid
solar market in the Global South (GOGLA, 2020).
The remainder of the Global South o-grid solar market (i.e., 70 percent share) is a
market that comprises the sale of what GOGLA has described as generic, copycat, and
counterfeit [photovoltaic] products(GOGLA, 2018), or more recently with the more
neutral designation unaliated products(GOGLA, 2020). Largely imported from
China, these cheapproducts have proliferated alongside the entrepreneurial solar
product distribution chain and are sold by hardware stores, street vendors, and informal
purveyors (Bensch et al., 2018; Jaglin, 2019; Samarakoon, 2020). They are mimetic tech-
nologies, often deriving their designs from branded entrepreneurial solar products, while
being sold at cheaper prices, with their quality and potential warranties being more
ambiguous (Grimm and Peters, 2016; Samarakoon, 2020). Their presence in the
Global South is immense.
The role of o-grid solar technologies in shaping urban space is mediated by a variety
of actors, knowledges, ideologies, and institutions (Jaglin, 2014). In particular, from this
perspective it is critical to recognize the role that the urban residents themselves play in
shaping their infrastructure geographies (Simone, 2004,2005,2013; Doherty, 2017). That
urban residents nd creative ways to realize their needs under the constraints of localized
conditions by devising dierent technical and institutional solutions (Jaglin, 2014), what
Castán Broto (2019: 85) elegantly frames as the daily choreographies of energy use.
They are bricoleurs, making creative use of whatever materials are at hand to realize
their energy needs (Munro, 2020), working hard to sustain not only survival in the
city but to bring forth new conditions of possibility(Silver, 2014: 790). There is thus het-
erogeneity in terms of how urban residents encounter and use dierent infrastructures to
full their energy desires (Lawhon et al., 2018; Castán Broto, 2019; Caprotti et al., 2022).
Nevertheless, despite this heterogeneity, the energy-poor tend to be simply framed as
being customers (or potential customers) (GOGLA, 2020)
in much of the inuential o-
grid solar market literature. Indeed, what is striking about o-grid solar markets, with the
aliated products in particular, is how prevalent inuential neoliberal perceptions of
Global South energy poverty are among many enterprises and investors (cf., Cross and
Neumark, 2021). There is a strong belief that the private sector and the market alone
have the power to solve energy poverty (Samarakoon, 2020). Jacobson (2007) and
Cross (2013) have both noted that this is not surprising, given o-grid solars ability to
be able to provide electrical services to individual households or even single appliances,
noting the photovoltaic solar cell proved enormously compatible with neoliberal policies
that emphasized the role of the market in the delivery of energy services to people living
othe grid(Cross, 2013: 372). Recent struggles with last-mile distribution, however, have
mildly tempered some of this neoliberal rhetoric. For example, Koen Peters, GOGLAs
Executive Director, recently noted that despite earlier ideological rejection of the idea
of subsidiesdue to fears that they would cause a distortion of the market(Peters,
2020a) there is now some acceptance within the sector that limited subsidies may be
needed. This has specically been framed as public funding [for] stimulating companies
(Peters, 2020b) to help them to reach the poorest of the poor(GOGLA, 2020).
This marketized framing of the o-grid solar sector is a relatively new phenomenon.
Solar o-grid products were certainly not designed with marketization in mind (Akrich,
1992), and earlier eorts to drive their dissemination throughout the Global South was
largely driven by the work of the not-for-prot charity sector (Munro et al., 2016; Bha-
midipati et al., 2019; Cross and Neumark, 2021). Nevertheless, over the past decade,
market-based approaches to provisioning electricity have become hegemonic, increas-
ingly being accepted as being central to the aim of achieving universal access to electricity
in the Global South (Samarakoon, 2020). This has led to numerous market-friendly
policy orientations (e.g., removing duties on renewable energy products), and a wide
array of nancial mechanisms oered by institutions (grants and soft loans) that encou-
rage energy businesses(Samarakoon, 2020: 1). Indeed, aid funding and some not-for-
prot work in the Global South has now been reoriented towards facilitating the
market dissemination of o-grid solar products (Bhamidipati et al., 2019; Samarakoon,
2020). O-grid solar products, and the markets in which they operate, can, therefore,
be understood as exemplars of what Pilo and Jae(2020) describe as political material-
ity.On the one hand they oer the material provision of electrical access; on the other,
they represent a commitment to market-based ideological approaches to addressing
energy poverty that shapes broader praxis within the development sector.
The strong inuence of marketization imperatives within the sector, however, does
not mean the sector necessarily operates with a relatively straightforward for-prot
motive. As Bhamidipati et al. (2019) note, due to heterogeneous organizations driven
by dierent sets of agendas in the energy space with a varied set of logics [are] not
easily captured by the simplistic notions of protin relation to private companies,
and developmentwith regard to aid organizations.Indeed, most companies in the
o-grid solar sector frame themselves as being social enterprises (Munro et al., 2016;
Cross, 2019), with the social objective of alleviating energy poverty arguably being
the key driver of much of their work. The use of a market-based mechanism is the
means to achieve this. What is relevant, however, are the structural imperatives that
have come with the o-grid market approach, as will be shown in the three case studies
The current emergence of o-grid electrical urbanism in the Global South is a mani-
festation of these above dynamics. It is the intersection of the material urban space,
characterized by limited and/or unreliable and the emergence of an o-grid solar
sector driven heavily by market ideals. In this context, the gravitation of conceived
rural o-grid electricity technologies towards the urban consumersis unsurprising.
Urban space tends to have higher economies of scale, access to trade routes, disposal
(and cash) incomes and customercredit ratings compared to rural areas. Thus, for
(indebted) start-up companies selling aliated solar products, urban customers are the
most lucrative in their quest for protably. In terms of unaliated o-grid solar pro-
ducts, urban centers also tend to be a frequent destination for these products, given
that they are usually bundled into the same trade routes as other electrical (e.g., televi-
sions, speakers) commodities. O-grid electrical urbanism is thus, as shown in the
case studies below, a conguration of the ideological with the material, with o-grid tech-
nologies not necessarily owing to the those in greatest needof electricity, rather
owing to those with stronger abilities to pay. Urban consumers are thus a logicaldes-
tination for many of these products. Hence the emergence and expansion of an o-grid
electrical urbanism.
O-Grid Electrical Urbanism: Three Case Studies
Gulu, Uganda
Gulu is the largest town in northern Uganda and acts as an administrative headquarters for
the region. It was ocially designated as a cityin July 2020. The city went through a rapid
period of growth during the 1990s and early 2000s when around 90,000 internally displaced
persons (IDPs) from conict-aected areas of northern Uganda made their way to Gulu to
seek sanctuary (Branch, 2013; Büscher et al., 2018), leading to a current-day population of
well over 150,000 residents (UBOS, 2016). Grid electricity arrives into Gulu via a transmission
line from hydroelectric dams on the Nile River in central Uganda. The grid electricity supply
is erratic, with blackouts occurring frequently (Munro, 2020). Like the rest of Uganda, this
electricity distribution is overseen by the fully privatized utility company, Umeme, that
was formed in 2005 as a part of the Ugandan Governments strategy of liberalizing the coun-
trysenergysector(Gore,2009,2017). The most recent census in 2014 estimated that only
34.1 percent of Gulushouseholdswereconnectedtotheelectricalgrid(UBOS,2016).
O-grid solar products are prominent in Gulu, both as a commodity sold in markets
and as items used to power households. A household survey conducted in Gulu in 2017 (n
= 190) found that 30.6 percent of households were using some kind of photovoltaic solar
product (Munro and Bartlett, 2019), a percentage that has likely grown, given Ugandas
overall recorded growth in o-grid solar sales (GOGLA, 2019). Both aliatedand
unaliatedsolar products are widely available in Gulu. Unaliated solar products
have a strong visual presence throughout the urban center. Along the citys main street,
there are more than a dozen shops selling solar products and other electrical items.
Similar products are also available through scatter shops around the rest of the city and
within the Gulu marketplace. These shops sell larger solar modules (See Figure 1), and
batteries and inverters which are sold separated, although smaller solar lanterns are also
available throughout the markets. There are also numerous informal roadside sellers
selling small solar products on their laid-out blankets. The shop-owners, many of
whom are part of the South Asian diaspora in Uganda (cf., Aiyar, 2017), noted that
solar customers came from urban centers and surrounding rural localities.
Gulu has also been a popular site for o-grid solar enterprisesselling branded
aliatedsolar productsdue to its eective designation as the capital of Ugandas
northern region. Since 2015, a range of solar start-up enterprises, which have their
main operations run out of Ugandas capital city Kampala, have set up branches in the
Gulu urban center, including, Solantis,
Sun King,
and MTNs Easypay Power System (through Fenix International).
Several of
them, however, have since closed down their Gulu Branch due to a range of nancial
and logistical reasons. The solar enterprise Lumi
has its main (and only) operations
Figure 1. Solar modules being sold along the main street of Gulu
oce in Gulu, and has an exclusive focus on the northern Ugandan region. With the
exception of SolarNow, which is focused on large-scale installations, all of the enterprises
have used PAYG solar technology in some form as a means to nance the sale of their
solar products to customers. All of these start-ups have either European (e.g., Solantis,
Village Power, SunnyMoney, SolarNow) or North American origins (i.e., Fenix Inter-
national, SunKing, Lumi) and usually operate with a head or strategic oce in the
Global North. Complex series of debt and equity funding arrangements underpin the
nancing of these companies. Greenlight Planet, the owner of Sun King o-grid solar
products, for example, has managed to source more than US$190 million in investor
funding since its founding in 2006. These companies are part of a nascent global exper-
iment in the nancialization of Africas energy poor (Munro, 2020).
Conversations with PAYG solar enterprises reveal how important the urban Gulu
market is for their business. One company representative noted, the urban, peri-
urban is really the successful areas for the branded products,while the theme of low
hanging fruit of peri-urban salesemerged in interviews with several other PAYG com-
panies. A fourth observed that When we try and go outside, try to go more rural, the
daily price [for PAYG repayments] is still just too high.Although sales to rural custo-
mers still occur, the representatives had found that the Gulu residents were their main
sales market due to higher incomes and proximity. Relatedly, mobile money use and
infrastructure also shaped sales: the further you go [from urban centers], the harder
it is to nd mobile money agents, and all the collections for our PAYG are made by
mobile money.Recent research funded by the United Nations Conference on Trade
and Development (UNCTAD) supports these observations, with data showing Gulu as
having considerably higher rates of both PAYG solar adoption and active mobile
money users per capita than any of its surrounding rural districts (Jain et al., 2019).
The potential lucrativeness of the urban markets has also been observed on a broader
strategic level, and numerous PAYG companies (e.g., Sunking, Village Power, Fenix Inter-
national) have recently developed small DC-power televisions that are sold alongside
their larger SHS products. Given their cost (overall, and through PAYG repayments)
they are likely to have limited appeal to rural customers. Indeed, one PAYG solar
company representative noted that they were the perfect product for smaller urban
areas and peri-urban settlements as they have slightly higher income than rural, but
still deep problems with getting access to the grid.Therefore, although often framing
their operations as oering last-mile distribution for solar products, PAYG solar sales
model and products in Gulu were are arguably orientated toward urban and peri-
urban markets, hence their great success in these locations (cf., Barry and Creti, 2020).
Gulu, thus, could be framed as a key site for pay as PAYG solar urbanism, a reection
of how the aliatedsolar industry has increasingly become focused on middle-class
urban markets. There are broader structural phenomena behind this shift. As noted
earlier, the vast majority of start-up companies working in the Global South o-grid
solar sectorincluding those operating in Guluare not yet protable, rather they are
largely running their operations on (equity and loan) investment debt. The need for
protability is thus a key driving concern within the sector (GOGLA, 2020;Cross and
Neumark, 2021), and as the situation in Gulu shows, this has implications in terms of
how o-grid companies have chosen to expand their operations. These aliatedo-
grid solar products are exemplars of the contrast between actual and intended use
(Akrich, 1992; Smith, 2019). Although they were designed and promoted as a rural pre-
electrication solution, in future it is clear that they will play a signicant role in addres-
sing latent demand for electricity access in urban spaces (Jaglin, 2019). This aligns with
what Cross and Neumark have observed in their recent research of the o-grid solar
sector. That for many of these (venture-capital backed) companies, providing o-grid
energy to precarious populations had lost its shineand in its place a more engrained
commitment to economic growth, and in particular by scaling up their operations
beyond the poor(Cross and Neumark, 2021: 911). It is an ideological commitment to
the market that has meant that the formal o-grid solar sectors future is increasingly
more orientated towards (middle-class) urban markets, rather than the rural energy
poor (especially those living in remote areas).
Mzuzu, Malawi
Located on the saddle of the Viphya Mountains in Mzimba District, Mzuzu is Malawisthird-
largest urban center. Originally a Tung Oil Estate established in 1947, Mzuzu was declared a
city in 1985 (UN Habitat, 2011) and has since become an important administrative and
business hub in northern Malawi. The city has a population of 221,272 and is currently
Malawis fastest-growing urban center with a growth rate of 5.4 percent and a population
density of 1,516 per sq km (NSO, 2019). Much of this growth has been unplanned, and a
lack of adequate infrastructure has resulted in the majority of the population living in
unplanned settlements lacking access to basic services such as water, electricity, and sanitation.
Like other cities in Malawi, Mzuzus grid connectivity is concentrated in the citys
central business district. It is estimated that 125,644 residents (56.78 percent) use grid-
based electricity as their main source of lighting (NSO, 2019), which is supplied by the
Electricity Supply Company of Malawi (ESCOM), a beleaguered parastatal entity that
has been the subject of numerous corruption scandals (Nyasa Times, 2020a) and
reforms (Nyasa Times, 2020b). ESCOMs supply is notoriously unreliable, with extended
power cuts being part of the daily rhythms of life in the fast-growing city.
While the thrum of diesel generators can be heard across the city during power cuts,
they are typically used by large businesses, government departments, and auent house-
holds. For the majority of Mzuzus residents, o-grid solar devices are an increasingly
economical option. Indeed, o-grid solar products have emerged in response to the inade-
quacies of Mzuzus centralized grid infrastructure. At a national level, the state hopes that
as much as 50 percent of Malawian households (2.8 million households) will gain access to
electricity through the purchase of home-scale solar devices by 2030 (GoM, 2017). This
has been facilitated by the removal of import duties and value-added tax (VAT) on
imported solar panels and batteries (Samarakoon, 2020). In fact, Malawis northern
region appears to be at the forefront of this turn towards o-grid solar products with
an estimated 12.3 percent of households using a solar device for lighting compared to
6.6 percent nationally (NSO, 2019). Mzuzus trading center is lled with market stalls
and electronics stores that sell a wide array of unaliated solar products that cater to a
range of budgetsfrom solar lanterns to large solar household systems. While a
handful of aliated solar social enterprises such as Sunny Money,
Zuwa Energy,
and SolarWorks
operate in Malawi and sell PAYG solar systems, their presence
in Mzuzu, and indeed the north more generally, is modest. Their operations are still
largely clustered around metropolitan Lilongwe (the nations capital) in central Malawi.
Recent ethnographic insights from Mzuzu suggest, that the citys supply of solar products
is dominated by unaliated solar products of varied quality that are sold without warran-
ties (Samarakoon, 2020; Samarakoon et al., 2020). There is also a distinct ethno-geo-
graphic hierarchy at play, as South and East Asian migrants tend to constitute the
majority of importers and large store owners, while local distributors sell cheaper
goods through smaller shops and market stalls (Englund, 2002; Samarakoon et al., 2021).
In addition to the ow of o-grid solar products traded through stores in Mzuzu,
Malawian diaspora based in South Africa appear to play an important role in this
o-grid electrical geography. Cultural ties and the search for greater economic oppor-
tunities in South Africa has been accompanied by inows of various appliances, as well
as the means to power them. As an illustrative example, when asked about her house-
holds solar system, an interviewee said, My father lives in South Africa and one time
he came three years ago, and I asked him to buy me a panel.Systems being purchased
by relatives in South Africa are a common practice in northern cities such as Mzuzu
(see Figure 2) and Mzimba, primarily as products imported into South African are
Figure 2. A solar controller purchased by a household in Mzuzu from South Africa (branded with a
South African ag)
perceived as being of higher quality. These systems are brought back in person during
visits, or through hired transporters that negotiate customs processes and deliver goods
on their behalf (Samarakoon et al., 2021). This can also involve bringing in second-
hand systems as goods for resale in the Malawian market, further complicating
matters concerning product quality (Samarakoon, 2020). Thus, we can see that
Mzuzuso-grid electrical infrastructure is also buttressed by relational networks and
intermediaries who facilitate an informal pathway for solar devices into Malawi from
overseas. This regional connection with diaspora in South Africa may also help
explain why northern Malawi has considerably higher levels of solar adoption when
compared to other regions.
Contrary to their intended purposes as a precursor to grid access, o-grid solar
systems feature in a range of heterogeneous electric congurations in urban Mzuzu.
Households that live in the shadow of the citys limited grid infrastructure, such as
those in the suburb of Masasa, view solar systems as a necessary compromise until
the grid reaches their premises (Samarakoon, 2020). However, in praxis households
do not make a binary choice between an o-grid solar system and grid-based electricity.
Rather, solar electricity tends to be viewed as a valuable backup,less capable but more
aordable and reliable than the electricity supplied by ESCOM. As a city resident
explained, ESCOM power can help me power big appliances like big audio systems,
while solar can help supplement things when ESCOM is not working.Layered on
to this are issues of aordability as the tendency is for households to rely on solar
for basic energy services such as lighting and mobile phone charging when their pre-
paid ESCOM units run out. This hybridized use of solar and grid-based power is
increasingly common in Mzuzu and could be described as a pragmatic response that
accounts for the strengths and limitations of each source of electricity. In interviews
with vendors in Mzuzus main marketplace, even those who relied on o-grid solar
systems due to a lack of grid access admitted to periodically relying on friends or
other businesses with grid connections to charge their solar batteries on inclement
days, or when their systems required repair.
Through this case study, we can appreciate how o-grid solar products have emerged
in response to the inadequacies of Mzuzus centralized grid infrastructure. Yet rather
than it being an alternative to centralized infrastructure, o-grid solar products are
being used in complementary hybrid congurations. However, as we will expand on
in the ensuing discussion, the attenuation of the grids failings through o-grid solar
devices can generate other forms of injustice. In the case of Mzuzu, a site of rapid urban-
ization, residents face a deepening commitment to a poorly regulated solar market that
they are often ill-equipped to navigate (Samarakoon, 2020; Samarakoon et al., 2021).
While the city of Mzuzu, and indeed Malawi more generally, is at a relatively nascent
stage of its photovoltaic turn in comparison to east African nations such as Uganda,
there are signs that it may experience a similar surge in aliated PAYG o-grid solar dis-
tribution. USAIDs USD 1.5 million Solar Home System Kick-Starter Program for
Malawi(USAID, 2019) and SunFunder providing aliated distributor Yellow with
USD 4 million in debt nancing (SunFunder, 2021) are reective of the growing attention
to the perceived market potential for o-grid solar in Malawi. However, as seen through
the case of Gulu, the nancial incentives at play may mean that this potential is premised
on catering to the urban middle class in cities like Mzuzu; leaving less auent
populations to adopt unaliated o-grid solar products or draw on diaspora networks in
their quest for basic energy services.
Luganville, Vanuatu
Luganville is the second-largest city in Vanuatu and is located on the island of Espiritu Santo
in the north of the Vanuatu archipelago. According to the countrys 2016 mini-census, the
urban center had a population of 16,312, although if the peri-urban surroundings are
included, the population was 27,184 (i.e., including the districts South-East Santo, and
Canal-Fanafo, which are in the Luganville urban grid electricity concession). The current
population (urban and peri-urban), however, is likely to be well over 30,000 as in 2018
the city received an inux of around 6,000 people, who were evacuated from the nearby
Ambae Island due to an imminent volcano eruption (IFRC, 2019). To help aid with the
inux, many chiefs and landowners agreed to provide land (under dierent tenure arrange-
ments) in Luganville and its surroundings for the displaced people of Ambae (RNZ, 2018),
and subsequently many of them have permanently settled in Luganville.
A main street, running on an east/west axis, runs through the middle of Luganville and
contains most of the citys (and islands) commercial businesses and shops. The main
streets western end is bisected by the Sarakata River whose upstream provides much
of the citys grid electricity supply thanks to a run of river hydropower facility that
was installed by the Japanese Government in 1994/5, with an upgrade in 2009 (Polack
2010; JICA, 2017). The balance of the electricity supply is provided by diesel generators
located near the center of Luganville, and three grid-connected solar arrays installed on
the top of government buildings (Munro, 2021). Luganville (along with the capital city of
Port Vila) is one of only two urban centers in Vanuatu with 24-hour grid electricity,
although microgrids, with various levels of reliability, can be found in various locations
across the archipelago. Since 2010, grid electricity supply in Luganville has been managed
and provided by the private sector company Vanuatu Utilities Infrastructure (VUI)
which is wholly owned by the United States-based Pernix Group. According to the
2016 census, 55 percent of households in Luganville were connected to the electrical
grid: 76 percent of urban residents, and 26 percent of peri-urban residents (VNSO,
2016; See Table 1). These gures, however, predate the inux of evacuated residents
from Ambae Island, many of whom are living in Luganville without direct electricity
access. Thus, connection percentage gures have likely decreased, despite an overall
gradual increase in Luganvilles grid network reach (URA, 2018; Munro 2021).
The use of o-grid solar products has become increasingly common in Vanuatu over
the past decade. As Walton and Ford (2020: 5) recently noted, portable solar lights are
Table 1. Main source of lighting in Luganville, including the districts of Luganville (urban), South-East
Santo, and Canal-Fanafo (peri- urban), sourced from the Vanuatu National Statistics Oce (VNSO)
2016 mini-census. SHS = Solar Home System
Pop Households
Grid Generator
SHS (> 50
SHS (< 50
lantern Other
Urban 16,312 3,024 76.2% 0.7% 5.8% 2.0% 13.7% 1.7%
10872 2,176 26.0% 2.4% 21.2% 13.0% 34.3% 3.1%
TOTAL 27,184 5,200 55.2% 1.4% 15.0% 6.6% 22.3% 2.3%
prominent in rural [Vanuatu] villages where they are readily visible, found either
hanging on the houses or placed on grassy clearings to gather the suns rays.From a
policy perspective, o-grid solar products (solar lanterns and SHSs) have been con-
structed as a solution to Vanuatusrural energy poverty, while extending the grid is
the solution to urban energy issues (UNDP, 2014; GoV, 2016; DoE, 2017a). For
example, in Luganville there are currently plans to expand its hydropower electricity
supply and make major extensions to its grid network to achieve 100 percent urban
grid access by 2030 (GoV, 2016; JICA, 2017). This neat distinction of electricity technol-
ogy geographies, however, has not played out in practice. As Table 1 shows, Vanuatus
rural o-grid solar technologies are popular among Luganvillesurban residents. In
the 2016 Vanuatu mini census, 43.9 percent of Luganvilles residents (urban and peri-
urban) use a solar-powered device (either an SHS or a solar lantern) as their main
source of energy for lighting (VNSO, 2016). This percentage has likely grown, as
Vanuatu has experienced a considerable boom in o-grid solar product sales since
2017 (GOGLA, 2019).
Similar to the sub-Saharan African examples above, aliatedand non-aliated
o-grid solar products are both sold in shops within Luganville. However, the ways
the o-grid solar market operates in Luganville (and Vanuatu) is considerably
dierent. Along the main street of Luganville, there are around a dozen variety shops
selling groceries, appliances, and clothing items, which include on their shelves a selec-
tion of unaliatedo-grid solar products (see Figure 3). These are known in local ver-
nacular as Chinese shopsas most of them are owned and run by Chinese diaspora
immigrants (Walton and Ford, 2020). They stock o-grid products ranging from small
lanterns to modular solar equipment big enough for commercial applications. These
shops do not appear to use distribution networks to sell products, rather they sell the
Figure 3. Generic branded solar home systems for sale within a variety shop in Luganville
o-grid products at the point-of-sale (Kelly et al., 2014). This has meant that the network
of their sales has largely been concentrated around the Luganville urban center (Kelly
et al., 2014). They tend to serve an urban market.
The aliated (branded) solar products are predominantly sold by two stores in Lugan-
ville: Power and Communications Solutions (PCS)
and eTech Vanuatu
(both have
their main branches in Port Vila). Unlike in sub-Saharan Africa, these companies are
not social enterprise start-ups; rather they are long-established businesses in Vanuatu
that have recently added o-grid solar products to existing operations. Both companies
were founded in 2002 with existing business operations in the areas of IT equipment
(eTech) and telecommunications infrastructure (PCS) (DoE, 2019). Both companies
are vendors for the Vanuatu Rural Electrication Program (VREP), a New Zealand Gov-
ernment funded initiative (with World Bank support) that pays a subsidy between 33 to
50 percent on selected o-grid products (DoE, 2017a). The program commenced in 2016
and is due to nish its nal phase in 2023. The products can be bought through outright
purchase, lay-by or nance schemes, including a PAYG solar option (DoE, 2017b).
However, vendors noted the latter option was not popular and hardly used, likely due
to the low use of mobile money in Vanuatu. While the VREP programas evidenced
by its nameis targeted at rural electrication, there are no restrictions on who can
buy the subsidized products. As the VREP catalogue states the VREP subsidy [is] avail-
able to all households(DoE, 2017b; emphasis added). Sellers of the product in Lugan-
ville conrmed that the subsidized products were popular with urban customers and
could even be bought by people who already had a connection to the electrical grid.
Luganvilleso-grid urban solar boom has been rapid. From an estimated 0.9 percent of
Luganville residents using o-grid solar as their main lighting source in 2009 (VSNO, 2009)
to more than 40 percent in 2016 (VSNO, 2016) and likely mass continue growth since
(GOGLA, 2019). Out of the three case studies, Luganville likely has the greatest proportion
of residents using solar. This is despite Vanuatu (and the South Pacic) being relatively per-
ipheral to the global o-grid lighting sector that has tended to have strong bias towards the
larger Asian and African markets. Indeed, Kelly et al. (2014: 3) have noted how the South
Pacic struggled to important pico-solar products between 2010 and 2013, as manufactur-
ing capacity was swamped, and supply preference was given to the largest markets in Asia
and Africa,quite simply the Pacic was not a priority(Kelly et al., 2014). Rather than
through social enterprises, more traditional aid development interventions have had to
drive Vanuatus and Luganvilleso-grid solar boom, albeit still using the private sector
for delivery. This includes the current New Zealand funded VREP program (2016 to
2023), and an earlier Australian Government-funded Lighting Vanuatu Project (2010 to
2012) (Kelly et al., 2014; Walton and Ford, 2020). Collectively, these two programs have
helped to disseminated around 75,000 o-grid solar products across Vanuatusislands
(Kelly et al., 2014; DoE, 2019). The equivalent of 1.4 o-grid solar products per house-
In contrast to debates in GOGLA literature and forums, concerns or discussions
about market distortionhave not featured in the documents and commentaries relating
to the VREP and Lighting Vanuatu programs (Kelly et al., 2014; Walton and Ford, 2020;
DoE, 2019). A diering ideology governs Vanuatuso-grid solar sector.
While the boom of urban o-grid solar products is recent, there has been a longer
history of o-grid solar products being used in Vanuatu (e.g., UNDP 1982). Indeed,
the archipelago geography of Vanuatu, like other Pacic Island nations and territories,
make decentralized o-grid energy technologies appealing (To et al., 2021). The earliest
projects were driven by aid programs, and while the aid sector still plays a key role in
disseminating o-grid solar products, there is a trend towards the commercialization,
privatization and commodication of the sector. The Australian Government funded
Lighting Vanuatu Project (2010 to 2012), for example, used not-for-protorganizations
in Vanuatu to disseminate o-grid solar products on a commercial basis. The more
recent New Zealand government funded VREP program (2016 to 2023), uses private
sector companies to sell products, predominantly from their retail outlets in Vanuatus
two biggest urban centers (Luganville and the capital city of Port Villa). The ideological
shift from aid projects to commercial distributions has thus also caused a geographical
shiftfrom implemented rural o-grid projects to o-grid product point-of-sales in
urban markets. While the costs of o-grid products are subsidized with VREP, dissemi-
nation is largely left up to the market.Thus, similar to the case studies of Gulu and
Mzuzu, the increased urban sales of o-grid solar products in Luganville sit in congru-
ence with the increase marketization of the sector.
O-Grid Electrical Urbanism: Key Themes
An emerging geography of o-grid solar urbanism is evident across the case studies, with
conservative gures of 12 to 42 percent of households in the dierent urban centers using
o-grid solar products. Percentages that are likely to continue to grow (GOGLA, 2019,
2020). O-grid solar products at each urban site, however, represent distinctive socio-
technical congurations as there have been dierent actors, values, and institutions
shaping their presence and dynamics. Gulu has arisen as an example of o-grid PAYG
solar urbanism in that it has emerged as a key market for social enterprises that identify
as part of a global o-grid sector (e.g., members of GOGLA). It is part of a broader
nancial global experiment to address energy poverty through speculative capital and
nancial technology (ntech) innovations. This PAYG solar urbanism is yet to reach
Mzuzu on a large-scale (although it is growing in Malawi), rather a major factor in
driving solar uptake has been the diaspora geographies of southern AfricaMalawian
émigrés living in relatively wealthy South Africa supplying funds and o-grid solar pro-
ducts for their relatives in Mzuzu. While in Luganville it is the aid sectorrather than
speculative capital investmentsthat has provided key funding support to market and
distribute o-grid solar products. While programs have been focused on rural electrica-
tion, in their wake a sizeable o-grid solar population in Luganville has emerged. These
contrasting o-grid urban geographies reect Lawhon et al.s observation that infrastruc-
tural artifacts should not be thought of as individual objects but as parts of geographi-
cally spread out socio-technological congurations: congurations which might involve
many dierent kinds of technologies, relations, capacities and operations, entailing
dierent risks and power relationships(Lawhon et al., 2018: 722). The presence of
o-grid solar products in each of the three ordinary citiescase studies is not happen-
stance, rather their presence at each site has been shaped by a range of diering political
economies, including nancial ows, migration dynamics, and regional aid programs.
Fundamental to o-grid electrical urbanism is the role of people. O-grid solar pro-
ductsboth due to their modular design and market-based dissemination strategies
rely on formal and informal people networks for their distribution. One theme that
was common across the three case studies was the role that the Asian diaspora commer-
cial trade networks play in shaping o-grid solar urban geographies. In Uganda, South
Asian diaspora trading networks; in Vanuatu, East Asian networks; and in Mzuzu,
both, were major distributors of non-aliatedsolar products. These networks are
exemplars of what Choplin and Pliez (2015) describe as inconspicuous globaliza-
tion”—the globalization of peripheral areas by small players who work at the margins
(Jaglin, 2019). They note that this inconspicuous globalizationcan be perceived by
examining geopolitical recongurations, the type of traded goods, the growing role of
economic actors such as entrepreneur-migrants and diasporas, and the changing hierar-
chy among citiesand that it is structured along rural centers, small towns, and paths
that are not easy to access even for the stakeholders who operate in these regions.
The presence of these unaliatedsolar o-grid products is thus the result of capitalized
and more-or-less systemized, but also informal, exible, and spatially ephemeral diaspora
supply networks (Munro and van der Horst, 2015; Mainet and Racaud, 2015; Racaud,
2015). As a result of these networks, similar, if not the same, generic brand o-grid
solar products can be found across variety shops in Gulu, Mzuzu, and Luganville.
The o-grid solar boom has undoubtedly resulted in increased access to electricity
across the Global South. However, there are pernicious issues that have arisen from the
specic geographies of its spread, as well as asymmetries in power and information that
are inherent to marketized models of dissemination (Samarakoon, 2020; Samarakoon
et al., 2021). Unlike grid electricity infrastructure (which tends to be provided by the
state), the material infrastructure of o-grid solar products are commodities. This consti-
tutes a break in the social contract of electricity infrastructural provision, from being a
social good being delivered by government, to being a protable commodity being sold
by enterprise. Through o-grid solar markets, the energy poor are implicitly reframed
as customers (rather than citizens), while o-grid social enterprises are governed by
boards of directors and have their praxis shaped by the vagaries of their investors.
There is, thus, a socioeconomic reality that shapes accesso-grid solar products are
still beyond the reach of the poorest of the poor(GOGLA, 2020), and indeed their
popular rise in ordinary citiesis a reection of this marketized logic. Thus, urban o-
grid solar products, through the cases of Gulu, Mzuzu, and Luganville can be seen as tem-
porary salves, addressing some of the shortcomings of state-driven grid-access, while
introducing new justice concerns through their deep reliance on market mechanisms.
In this article, we have detailed the emergence of o-grid electrical urbanism in the
Global South. Specically, we have shown how the boom in sales of o-grid solar pro-
ducts over the last decadedespite being framed as a rural technologyhas resulted
in changing urban energy geographies. Across the Global South, urban residents are
increasingly using o-grid solar systems as an alternative or backup for their electricity
needs. Nevertheless, as we have illustrated through the three case studies, how these o-
grid solar technologies have emerged in urban contexts varies considerably. The geogra-
phy of o-grid electrical distribution in urban spaces has been shaped by dierent local
political economies that have included speculative capital investment in ntech solar pro-
ducts (Gulu), southern African migration dynamics (Mzuzu) and aid programs
(Luganville). Through the changing energy geographies of these ordinary citieswe can
observe a paradigmatic shift in how electricity is being provisioned, what was exclusively
a state concern is increasingly being left to formal and informal markets. Given the vag-
aries of speculative capital, the ubiquity of unaliated solar products, and the tendency
for markets in the Global South to be poorly regulated, this turn to o-grid solar products
has numerous implications in terms of who gets access. Indeed, the increasing focus on
marketized dissemination models has meant that o-grid solar products, initially
designed for rural populations, are gravitating towards urban consumers, as the latter
have relatively higher incomes and are more accessible.
Overall, these trends in o-grid electrical urbanism have meant that the energyscapes
of cities in the Global South are becoming increasingly complicated. There are messy
congurations of network and post network electrical infrastructures that are shaped
by a variety of actors, knowledges, ideologies, and institutions (Jaglin, 2014). They demon-
strate an encounter between the ideals of modernity and orderly growth and the actual
city that produces urban energy landscapes and resists any attempts to control it(Castán
Broto, 2019:7677). The forms of Global South o-grid urbanism presented in this article
and indeed across ordinary cities in the Global Southhave ultimately emerged as a
response to the limits of network electrical infrastructures in ordinary cities. Yet it is
not a panacea, and indeedgiven neoliberal inuences in the sectorit has tended to
reproduce existing or yield new dislocations. As such, understanding the (o-grid) ener-
gyscapes of ordinary cities is necessary to develop a more nuanced understanding of how
(in)justices are entangled in post-network urban responses.
1. For example, the term customeris used more than 200 times to reference to Global South
energy users in the most recent GOGLA (2020) report. The terms citizen,”“resident,or
energy poorare never used.
13. GOGLA (2019) has documented the sale of 73,864 o-grid solar products in Vanuatu from
January 2017 to June 2019 (a 2.5 period). This number is particularly impressive considering
that the 2016 mini census estimate that there were only 55,527 household in Vanuatu
(VSNO, 2016).
16. The 2016 Vanuatu mini census estimated that there are 55,527 household in Vanuatu
(VNSO, 2016).
Notes on Contributors
Paul Munro is an associate professor in human geography within the Environment and Society
Group at the University of New South Wales in Sydney Australia.
Shanil Samarakoon is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of New South Wales in Sydney
Australia. He has 15 years of experience working on projects relating to energy, cooperatives and
agroecology across Malawi and Sri Lanka. His recently completed his PhD which focused on issues
of energy justice in Malawi's o-grid solar market, while his broader research interests include
issues relating to energy poverty, energy transitions and energy justice in Sub-Saharan African
Paul Munro
Shanil Samarakoon
ADB (Asian Development Bank), Luganville Grid-Connected Solar Power Trial, Project Brief
(Manila: ADB, 2019).
M. Akrich, The De-Scription of Technical Objects,in W. Bijker and J. Law, eds., Shaping
Technology/Building Society (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1992) 205224.
S. Aiyar, East Africa and its South Asian Diasporas,in R. Hedgeand and A. Sahoo, eds., Routledge
Handbook of the Indian Diaspora (London: Routledge, 2017)6274.
A. Amin and S. Graham, The Ordinary City,Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers
22: 4 (1997) 411429.
I. Baptista, “‘We Live on Estimates: Everyday Practices of Prepaid Electricity and the Urban
Condition in Maputo, Mozambique,International Journal of Urban and Regional Research
39: 5 (2015) 10041019.
J. Barrie and H. Cruickshank, Shedding Light on the Last Mile: A Study on the Diusion
of Pay As You Go Solar Home Systems in Central East Africa,Energy Policy 107 (2017)
M. Barry and A. Creti, Pay-As-You-Go Contracts for Electricity Access: Bridging the Last Mile
Gap? A Case Study in Benin,Energy Economics 90 (2020) 104843.
eneco.2020.104843 Accessed August 20, 2020.
D. Bell and M. Jayne, Small Cities? Towards a Research Agenda,International Journal of Urban
and Regional Research 33: 3 (2009) 683699.
G. Bensch, M. Grimm, M. Huppertz, J. Langbein and J. Peters, Are Promotion Programs Needed
to Establish O-Grid Solar Energy Markets? Evidence from Rural Burkina Faso,Renewable
and Sustainable Energy Reviews 90 (2018)10601068.
P. L. Bhamidipati, U. E. Hansen and J. Haselip, Agency in Transition: The Role of Transnational
Actors in the Development of the O-Grid Solar PV Regime in Uganda,Environmental
Innovation and Societal Transitions 33 (2019)3044.
A. Branch, Gulu in War and Peace? The Town as Camp in Northern Uganda,Urban Studies
50: 15 (2013) 31523167.
K. Büscher, S. Komujuni and I. Ashaba, Humanitarian Urbanism in a Post-conict Aid Town:
Aid Agencies and Urbanization in Gulu, Northern Uganda,Journal of Eastern African
Studies 12: 2 (2018) 348366.
J. Bryson, R. Kalafsky and V. Vanchan, Ordinary Cities, Extraordinary Geographies: Parallax
Dimensions, Interpolations and the Scale Question,in J. Bryson, R. Kalafsky and
V. Vanchan, eds., Ordinary Cities, Extraordinary Geographies.People, Place and Space
(London: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2021a)122
J. Bryson, V.: Vanchan and R. Kalafsky, Reframing Urban Theory: Smaller Towns and Cities,
Forms of Life, Embedded Plasticity and Variegated Urbanism,in J. Bryson, R. Kalafsky and
V. Vanchan, eds., Ordinary Cities, Extraordinary Geographies.People, Place and Space
(London: Edward Elgar Publishing 2021b) 212235.
V. Castán Broto, Energy Sovereignty and Development Planning: the Case of Maputo,
Mozambique,International Development Planning Review 39: 3 (2017) 229248.
V. Castán Broto, Urban Energy Landscapes (Cambridge University Press, 2019).
V. Castán Broto Climate Change Politics and the Urban Contexts of Messy Governmentalities,
Territory,: Politics, Governance 8: 2 (2020): 241258.
F. Caprotti, J. de Groot, K. Bobbins, N. Mathebula, C. Butler, and M. Moorlach, Rethinking the
O-Grid City,Urban Geography (2022).
A. Choplin and O. Pliez, The Inconspicuous Spaces of Globalization,Articulo-Journal of Urban
Research 12 (2015). Accessed August 20, 2020.
J. Cross, The 100th Object: Solar lighting Technology and Humanitarian Goods,Journal of
Material Culture 18: 4 (2013) 367387.
J. Cross, The Solar Good: Energy Ethics in Poor Markets,Journal of the Royal Anthropological
Institute 25: S1 (2019)4766.
J. Cross and T. Neumark, Solar Power and its Discontents: Critiquing O-grid Infrastructures of
Inclusion in East Africa,Development and Change 52: 4 (2021) 906926.
R. De Bercegol and J. Monstadt, The Kenya Slum Electrication Program. Local Politics of
Electricity Networks in Kibera,Energy Research and Social Science 41 (2018): 249258.
F. De Boeck, A. Cassiman, and S. Van Wolputte, Recentering the City: An Anthropology of
Secondary Cities in Africa,in K. Bakker, ed., Proceedings of African Perspectives 2009 The
African Inner City Conference (Pretoria: University of Pretoria, 2010)3342.
DoE (Department of Energy), Environmental Code of Practice for Solar Home Systems and Solar
Micro-Grid Systems (Used Battery Disposal, Health and Safety and Land Permission) For
Vanuatu Rural Electrication Project, Vanuatu (Port Vila: DoE, Vanuatu, 2017a).
DoE (Department of Energy), Vanuatu Rural Electrication Program (VREP): Half Price Subsidies
for Plug and PlaySolar Home Systems, Product Catalogue.: Issue 3 (Port Vila: DoE, Vanuatu,
DoE (Department of Energy), Vanuatu Rural Electrication Program (VREP). Presentation. (Port
Vila: DoE, Vanuatu, 2019).
J. Doherty, Life (and Limb) in The Fast-Lane: Disposable People as Infrastructure in Kampalas
Boda Industry,Critical African Studies 9: 2 (2017) 192209.
M. Dornan, Access to Electricity in Small Island Developing States of the Pacic: Issues and
Challenges,Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 31 (2014) 726735
H. Englund, Ethnography After Globalism: Migration and Emplacement in Malawi,American
Ethnologist 29: 2 (2002) 261286.
K. Furlong, STS Beyond the Modern Infrastructure Ideal:Extending Theory by Engaging with
Infrastructure Challenges in the South,Technology in Society 38 (2014): 139147.
D. A. Ghanem, Energy, the City and Everyday Life: Living with Power Outages in Post-War
Lebanon,Energy Research and Social Science 36 (2018): 3643.
GOGLA (Global O-Grid Lighting Association), Solar Market Report Semi-Annual Sales and
Impact Data January June (Utrecht: GOGLA, 2018).
GOGLA (Global O-Grid Lighting Association), Solar Market Report Semi Annual Sales and
Impact Data January June 2019 (Utrecht: GOGLA, 2019).
GOGLA (Global O-Grid Lighting Association), O-Grid Solar: Market Trends Report 2020
(Utrecht: GOGLA, 2020).
C. Gore, Electric Capitalism: Recolonising Africa on the Power Grid,in D. McDonald, ed.,
Electric Capitalism: Recolonising Africa on the Power Grid (London: Earthscan, 2009) 359399.
C. Gore,: Electricity in Africa: The Politics of Transformation in Uganda.: African Issues series.
(Suolk: James Currey, 2017).
GoM (Government of Malawi), Malawi Renewable Energy Strategy (Lilongwe: GoM, 2017)https://
tory-tools/61-malawi-renewable-energy-strategy Accessed on April 18, 2019.
GoV (Government of Vanuatu),: Updated Vanuatu National Energy Road Map 2016-2030 (Port
Vila: GoV, 2016).
M. Grimm and J. Peters, Solar O-Grid Markets in Africa. Recent Dynamics and the Role of
Branded Products,Field Actions Science Reports. The Journal of Field Actions 15 (2016):
P. K. Guma, Incompleteness of Urban Infrastructures In Transition: Scenarios From the Mobile
Age in Nairobi,Social Studies of Science 50: 5 (2020) 728750.
M. Hodson and S. Marvin, Can Cities Shape Socio-Technical Transition and How Would We
Know if They Were?in H. Bulkeley, V. Castán Broto, M. Hodson and S. Marvin, eds., Cities
and Low Carbon Transitions (London: Routledge, 2011)5470.
IEA (International Energy Agency), World Energy Outlook 2019 (Paris: IEA, 2020).
IFRC (The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies), Emergency Plan of
Action Final Report Vanuatu: Ambae Volcanic Eruption 2018 (Geneva: IFRC, 2019).
A. Jacobson, Connective Power: Solar Electrication and Social Change in Kenya,World
Development 35: 1 (2007) 144162.
V. Jacome, N. Klugman, C. Wolfram, B. Grunfeld, D. Callaway and I. Ray, Power Quality and
Modern Energy for All,Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 116: 33 (2019)
S. Jaglin, Regulating Service Delivery in Southern Cities: Rethinking Urban Heterogeneity,in S.
Parnell and S. Oldeld, eds., The Routledge Handbook on Cities of the Global South (London:
Routledge, 2014) 434447.
S. Jaglin, Is the Network Challenged by the Pragmatic Turn in African Cities? Urban Transition
and Hybrid Delivery O.: Coutard and J. Rutherford, eds., Beyond the
Networked City: Infrastructure Recongurations and Urban Change in the North and South
(London: Routledge, 2015) 200221.
S. Jaglin, Electricity Autonomy and Power Grids in Africa: From Rural Experiments to Urban
Hybridizations,in F. Lopez, M. Pellegrino and O. Coutard, eds., Local Energy Autonomy:
Spaces, Scales, Politics (London: Wiley, 2019) 291310.
M. Jain, R.: Gravesteijn, A. Jacobson, E. Gamble and N. Scarrone, Digital Finance for Energy Access
in Uganda: Putting Mobile Money Big Data Analytics to Work (United Nations Conference on
Trade and Development, 2019).
JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency),: Data Collection Survey on Power Sector in
Espiritu Santo in Republic of Vanuatu Final Report (Tokyo: JICA, 2017).
D. Kelly, A. Doering, R. Ford, C. Gabriel and S. Walton, Independent Completion Report Lighting
Vanuatu (Canberra: DFAT Australian Aid, 2014).
Koechlin L and T Förster, Secondary Cities and the Formation of Political Space in West and East
Africa,in I. Pardo and G. Prato eds., The Palgrave Handbook of Urban Ethnography (Palgrave
MacMillan, 2018) 351368.
M. Kooy and K. Bakker, Splintered Networks: The Colonial and Contemporary Waters of
Jakarta,Geoforum 39: 6 (2008) 18431858.
M. Lawhon, H. Ernstson and J. Silver, Provincializing Urban Political Ecology: Towards a
Situated UPE Through African Urbanism,Antipode 46: 2 (2014): 497516.
M. Lawhon, D. Nilsson, J. Silver, H. Ernstson and S. Lwasa, Thinking Through Heterogeneous
Infrastructure Congurations,Urban Studies 55: 4 (2018) 720732.
M. Lawhon and Y. Truelove Disambiguating the Southern Urban Critique: Propositions,:
Pathways and Possibilities for a More Global Urban Studies,Urban Studies 57: 1 (2020)320.
H. Mainet and S. Racaud. Secondary Towns in Globalization: Lessons from East Africa,Articulo-
Journal of Urban Research 12 (2015). Accessed August 20,
T. Massin, Small Cities/Transitional Cities,in A. Orum, ed., The Wiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of
Urban and Regional Studies (London: Wiley, 2019): 16.
J. Monstadt and S. Schramm, Toward the Networked City? Translating Technological Ideals and
Planning Models in Water and Sanitation Systems in Dar es Salaam,International Journal of
Urban and Regional Research 41: 1 (2017) 104125
P. Munro, On, O, Below and Beyond The Urban Electrical Grid: The Energy Bricoleurs Of Gulu
Town,Urban Geography 41: 3 (2020) 428447.
P. Munro,: Energy Political Ecologies in the South Pacic: The Politics of Energy Transitions in
Vanuatu,Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society 14: 2 (2021) 361378.
P. Munro and A. Bartlett, Energy Bricolage in Northern Uganda: Rethinking Energy Geographies
in Sub-Saharan Africa,Energy Research and Social Science 55 (2019)7181.
P. Munro and A. Schier, Ethnographies of Electricity Scarcity: Mobile Phone Charging
Spaces and the Recrafting of Energy Poverty In Africa,Energy and Buildings 188 (2019):
P. Munro and G. van der Horst, Breaks with the Past: Conict, Displacement, Resettlement and the
Evolution of Forest Socio-Ecologies in Sierra Leone,in J. Lahai and T. Lyons, eds., African
Frontiers: Insurgency, Governance and Peacebuilding in Postcolonial States (London: Ashgate,
2015) 119130
P. Munro, G. van der Horst, S. Willans, P. Kemeny, A. Christiansen, and N. Schiavone, Social
Enterprise Development and Renewable Energy Dissemination in Africa: The Experience of
the Community Charging Station Model in Sierra Leone,Progress in Development Studies
16: 1 (2016)2438.
P. Munro, S. Samarakoon and G. van der Horst African Energy Poverty: A Moving Target,
Environmental Research Letters 15 (2020) 104059.
Accessed August 20, 2020.
NSO (National Statistics Oce), 2018 Malawi Population and Housing: Census Main Report
(Lilongwe: NSO, May 2019)
%20Report.pdfAccessed August 16, 2020.
Nyasa Times (2020a), HRDC Exposes Escom Corruption on Matters,
hrdc-exposes-escom-corruption-on-meters-acb-moves-in-to-investigate/ AccessedAugust 18, 2020.
Nyasa Times (2020b), Malawi Govt Split ESCOM Again to Form Power Market Limited,https:// Accessed
August 18, 2020.
D. Ockwell, J. Atela, K. Mbeva, V. Chengo, R. Byrne, R. Durrant, V. Kasprowic, and A. Ely Can
Pay-As-You-Go,: Digitally Enabled Business Models Support Sustainability Transformations In
Developing Countries? Outstanding Questions and a Theoretical Basis for Future Research,
Sustainability 11: 7 (2019): Accessed August 20, 2020.
K. Peters, Partnerships are Important for the Success of the O-Grid Solar Industry,Global O-
Grid Lighting Association,February 28 2020a:
rships-are-important-for-the-success-of-the-o-grid-solar-industry Accessed August 5, 2020.
K. Peters, O-Grid Solar Is Entering a New Era of Growth: GOGLAsO-Grid Solar Forum
Explores Why,Next Billion,January 29, 2020b:
forum-2020/ Accessed August 5, 2020.
F. Pilo, Negotiating Networked Infrastructural Inequalities: Governance, Electricity Access, and
Space in Rio De Janeiro,Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space: 39: 2 (2021) 265281.
F. Pilo and R. Jae,: Introduction: The Political Materiality of CitiesCity and Society 32: 1
A. Polack, Drivers and Barriers Of Renewable Energy in the Electrication Of Vanuatu, MSc Thesis
(Perth: Murdoch University, 2010).
S. Racaud. Chasing a Pair of Chinese Sandals: Markets and Trade Routes in Cameroon,Articulo-
Journal of Urban Research 12 (2015). Accessed August 20,
M. Rateau and S. Jaglin Co-Production of Access and Hybridisation of Congurations: A Socio-
Technical Approach to Urban Electricity in Cotonou and Ibadan,International Journal of
Urban Sustainable Development (2020) early online:
1780241 Accessed August 20, 2020.
RNZ (Radio New Zealand),: Not Enough Schools to Accommodate Relocated Ambae Children,
Radio New Zealand,28 August, 2018:
8/not-enough-schools-to-accommodate-relocated-ambae-children Accessed August 7, 2020.
E. Robin and V. Castán Broto. Towards a Postcolonial Perspective on Climate Urbanism,
International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 45: 5 (2021) 869878.
J. Robinson, Global and World Cities: A View From Othe Map,International Journal of Urban
and Regional Research 26 (2002) 531554.
J. Robinson, Ordinary Cities: Between Modernity and Development (London: Routledge, 2006).
P. Rols, D. Ockwell and R. Byrne, Beyond Technology and Finance: Pay-As-You-Go Sustainable
Energy Access and Theories of Social Change,Environment and Planning A 47 (2015): 2627.
S. Samarakoon, The Troubled Path to Ending Darkness: Energy Injustice Encounters in Malawis
O-Grid Solar Market,Energy Research and Social Science 69 (2020) 101712.
10.1016/j.erss.2020.101712 Accessed August 20 , 2020.
S. Samarakoon, A. Bartlett and P. Munro, Somewhat Original: Energy Ethics in MalawisO-Grid
Solar Market,Environmental Sociology 7: 3 (2020) 361378.
S. Samarakoon, A. Bartlett and P. Munro, Somewhat original: energy ethics in Malawiso-grid
solar market,Environmental Sociology 7: 3 (2021) 164175.
J. Silver, Incremental Infrastructures: Material Improvisation and Social Collaboration Across
Post-Colonial Accra,Urban Geography 35: 6 (2014) 788804.
J. Silver, Disrupted Infrastructures: An Urban Political Ecology of Interrupted Electricity in
Accra,International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 39: 5 (2015) 9841003.
A. Simone, People as Infrastructure: Intersecting Fragments in Johannesburg,Public Culture 16:
3(2004) 407429.
A. Simone, Urban Circulation and the Everyday Politics of African Urban Youth: The Case Of
Douala, Cameroon,International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 29: 3 (2005)516532.
A. Simone, Cities of Uncertainty: Jakarta, The Urban Majority, and Inventive Political
Technologies,Theory, Culture and Society 30: 7 (2013): 243263.
S. Smith, Hybrid Networks, Everyday Life and Social Control: Electricity Access in Urban Kenya,
Urban Studies 56: 6 (2019) 12501266.
SunFunder, New $4 million Investment in Yellow in Malawi[Online], https://www.sunfunder.
com/post/yellow-malawi Accessed October 12, 2021.
L. S. To, A. Bruce, P. Munro, E. Santagata, I. MacGill, M. Rawali and A. Raturi, A Research and
Innovation Agenda For Energy Resilience in Pacic Island Countries and Territories,Nature
Energy 6(2021): 10981103.
UBOS (Uganda Bureau of Statistics),: Uganda Bureau of Statistics, National Population and
Housing Census 2014Main report (Kampala: UBOS, 2016).
USAID, Southern Africa Energy Program (SAEP): Market Entry Information Pack,January 2019.
UNDP (United Nations Development Programme), Pacic Energy Programme Mission Report:
Vanuatu (New York: UNDP, 1982).
UNDP (United Nations Development Programme), NAMA Study Rural Electrication in Vanuatu
(New York: UNDP, 2014).
UN Habitat, Malawi: Mzuzu Urban Prole (UN Habitat: Nairobi, 2011).
URA (Utilities Regulatory Authority), Electricity Fact Sheet 20122017 (Port Vila: URA December
VNSO (Vanuatu National Statistics Oce), 2009 National Population and Housing Census.: Basic
Tables Report Volume 1 (Port Vila: VNSO, 2009)
VNSO (Vanuatu National Statistics Oce), 2016 Post-TC Pam Mini-Census Report (Port Vila:
VNSO, 2016)
S. Walton and R. Ford, Easy or Arduous? Practices, Perceptions and Networks Driving Lighting
Transitions from Kerosene to Solar in Vanuatu,Energy Research and Social Science 65 (2020):
L. Watt, Fijian Infrastructural Citizenship: Spaces of Electricity Sharing and Informal Power
Grids in an Informal Settlement,Cogent Social Sciences 6: 1 (2020) 1719568.
10.1080/23311886.2020.1719568 Accessed August 20, 2020.
M.-H. Zérah and E. Denis, Introduction: Reclaiming Small Townsin E. Denis and M.-H. Zérah,
eds., Subaltern Urbanisation in India: An Introduction to the Dynamics of Ordinary Towns
(Springer, 2017)135.
... For instance, Alabi et al. used satellite night lights to investigate access to electricity in Nigeria, finding scarce progress in some areas of the country [26]. As Munro and Samarakoon illustrate, as the market becomes involved in the scene for relieving energy poverty, geographies of inequality become activated [27], as energy poverty is a social product following the direction given by the State to define where energy poverty occurs and where it does not [28]. Birsanuc takes an approach to gender inequalities to analyze the case of Romania [29]. ...
... This finding is aligned with the observations provided by Munro and Samarakoon, and Bouzarovski. They indicated how the reliance on free-market urban economics triggers inequalities represented in energy poverty and undermines the efforts of planning solutions by the State [25,27]. The role of free-market urban economics in energy poverty is a common discussion in the revised literature. ...
Full-text available
Energy poverty, considered a form of deprivation distinct from income poverty, is associated with three factors: low-income levels, high energy costs, and poor residential energy efficiency. It is necessary to study the socio-spatial distribution of energy poverty, particularly in metropolitan areas, due to persistent socioeconomic segregation and their public agenda implications, including the U.N. SDGs. A model of these characteristics can propose a spatial analysis of urban and climate implications, contributing evidence for public policy. This article aims to address energy poverty from a spatial approach extended to the urban area in Santiago de Chile through an exploratory model that estimates the impact of socioeconomic, urban, and climatic variables at a territorial scale on the performance of homes. Using a geographical weighted regression with the inside home temperature in winter as the dependent variable, the independent variables were the percentage of professionals, NDVI, annual thermal amplitude, and housing material quality. A housing quality pattern that acts as a proxy for vulnerability to energy poverty was found, repeating the distribution pattern of the different socioeconomic sectors. The findings incorporate a new interpretive matrix into the complex reproduction of segregation and inequality in a capital city from a developing country.
Full-text available
There has been a resurgence in interest in the off-grid city, with a focus on off-grid urban spaces in the Global South, and on how the off-grid functions as a collection of places, lived spaces, and dynamic infrastructural configurations. As scholars and practitioners working in the off-grid urban context in South Africa, we contend it is necessary to question the assumptions of the "off-grid" concept in urban geography in terms of its implications for conducting research. We thereby identify four areas for further conceptual and empirical elaboration. The first area concerns the importance of continuing to redefine academic and practical understandings of the "grid", ultimately moving to redefine its meaning in the city. The second is a need to decolonise and decentre the relationship between global and technocratic urban development "standards", practices and discourses, and the 2 granular off-grid context. The third area is the imperative of critically engaging with narratives of inadequacy and imperfection as often applied to off-grid, informal urban spaces. The fourth is the priority of moving towards a needs-based approach to off-grid development, with a focus on co-production of urban knowledge with local communities to ensure their needs and interests are met.
Full-text available
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.
Full-text available
Since 2010, solar energy companies in North America and Europe have played a pivotal role in delivering clean, reliable and sustainable electricity to millions of people living off the grid across sub-Saharan Africa. However, today, off-grid solar energy in Africa is no longer seen as an unmitigated social and economic good. Inflows of private equity investment have led the employees and customers of off-grid solar companies to question the industry's commercial dynamics. Their critiques address the mis-selling of solar home systems and the technical limits of off-grid infrastructures for domestic production, framed both by dominant market paradigms and by relationships to nation, community and family. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in East Africa's off-grid solar industry, this study assembles these critical perspectives into a wider analysis of off-grid solar power as an adverse ‘infrastructure of inclusion’.
Full-text available
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.