The importance of flexible off-grid energy solutions for the diffusion of solar technology to low-income users and extension of basic energy access in India

This seminar will explore how the sale of flexible energy solutions has been key for the diffusion of solar technology to low-income users in India.

Tens of millions of households in India currently lack access to reliable and affordable electricity. Off-grid solar products, which can be used independently of any electricity grid, are an attractive basic electricity option for many of these households. Recent energy scholarship suggests that businesses selling high-quality, low-cost, standardized off-grid solar products at volume can drive the mass diffusion of solar technology to low-income populations. Numerous solar businesses operate under the assumption that with this model they can capture demand in so-called ‘bottom of the pyramid’ (BoP) markets.

Based upon empirical data from the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, the seminar will look at how solar businesses adopting this model have struggled, only selling significant numbers of units when subsidised. It will contrast this to the case of informal shops which, in contrast, are thriving by selling a wide variety of mixed-quality, improvised, and flexible solar products, without subsidies. They cater to people’s need for energy solutions which can be altered and added to incrementally. In conclusion, I will suggest that the diffusion of solar technology to low-income populations, and thereby progress on energy access, requires models that can deliver products compatible with people’s requirements for flexibility, both in function and time.

Some refreshments will be served.

This seminar is hosted by Environment & Society, School of Humanities & Languages. For more information, please email Paul Munro.


Dr Balls is a New Generation Network post-doctoral scholar at the Australia India Institute, University of Melbourne. His academic work is situated in the fields of critical energy geographies, economic geography, and development geography, with a regional focus on India. He is currently working on two research projects. The first is a project looking at looking at how private solar micro-grids in rural India are advancing affordable and reliable electricity in rural areas, and their impact on people’s ability to access electricity as a public good. The second is a project looking at the role of funders and incubators in supporting social enterprises selling clean technology in India.

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