University of Sussex
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All together now: institutional innovation for pro-poor electricity access in sub-Saharan Africa

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posted on 2023-06-09, 05:42 authored by Lorenz Gollwitzer
Access to electricity is an important precondition to many aspects of human and economic development. Yet, in rural sub-Saharan Africa in particular, access rates remain very low — at an average of 17% and much lower in some cases. Rural electrification in Kenya, the focus of this thesis, had only reached 7% in 2014. Given the goal of universal electrification by 2030, formulated as part of Sustainable Development Goal 7, scalable and replicable approaches that are able to support productive and non-productive uses are required. Mini-grids are one promising solution to this problem, alongside grid extension and off-grid approaches such as solar home systems. However, their long-term operational sustainability has historically been a challenge. While the academic literature to date on sustainable energy access has largely been two-dimensional in its analysis of mini-grids (focusing on technology and economics or financing), this thesis contributes to an emerging body of recent contributions to the literature, which have begun to foreground socio-cultural considerations. Bridging the literature on collective action for common-pool resource (CPR) management and property rights theory, a refined theoretical framework is produced for the purpose of analysing the institutional conditions for sustainable management of rural mini-grids. The utility of this framework and of treating electricity in a mini-grid as a CPR is demonstrated via empirical analysis of three case studies of mini-grids in rural Kenya and evidence from 24 expert interviews. This yields insights on nontechnological approaches to addressing operational challenges relating to sustainable mini-grid management, e.g. fair allocation of limited amounts of electricity to different consumers in ways that are acceptable to the entire community. This thesis develops contributions to the literature on sustainable CPR management and collective action, property rights theory and energy access in developing countries. From these theoretical and empirical insights, it explores a novel institutional structure for sustainable management of pro-poor mini-grids in the form of a community–private property hybrid management platform, thereby opening up opportunities for future research into the implementation of such a platform. The thesis represents the first comprehensive attempt to analyse the institutional aspects of pro-poor mini-grid management as well as the first comprehensive attempt to treat electricity in a mini-grid as a CPR.


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University of Sussex

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