How are issues of energy justice entangled in the adoption of off-grid solar home systems in Malawi?

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Copyright: Samarakoon, Shanil
The off-grid solar sector has experienced tremendous growth since 2010, serving approximately 420 million users in the Global South. The adoption of off-grid solar products for household-scale electricity has been particularly strong across Sub-Saharan Africa, catalysed by lowered manufacturing costs, the backing of international aid institutions, and market-friendly policy settings. In light of decades of slow grid expansion, the Malawian state, like those of several nations across the Sub-Saharan African region, is placing great reliance on the off-grid solar market as a means to address acute energy poverty. Specifically, the Malawian Renewable Energy Strategy expects 50% of Malawian households (2.8 million) to be using solar lanterns or solar household systems for basic energy services by 2030. This thesis examines how issues of energy justice are entangled in the adoption of off-grid solar home systems in Malawi. Through the use of multi-site ethnography (2019-2020), it examines insights from Malawian households, solar distributors, repair centres, the Solar Trade Association, and local energy experts. This thesis details how a two-tiered off-grid solar market generates a number of injustices for Malawi's energy-poor, this includes issues of consumer literacy, affordability, product quality, consumer protection, the right to repair, and solar e-waste. Through its analysis of these issues of energy injustice, this thesis demonstrates how market-based off-grid solar home systems tend to reproduce existing structural inequities (social, economic and spatial) in a Malawian setting. Thus, this thesis concludes that while market-based off-grid solar household systems have and continue to provide salient benefits to some Malawian households, they do not represent a just and sustainable solution to structural issues of energy poverty.
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Samarakoon, Shanil
Munro, Paul
Bartlett, Anne
Walker, Sarah
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PhD Doctorate
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