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Justice in Transition: A Case of Decentralized Renewables from India

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As India expanded its grid infrastructure, decentralized renewable energy technologies, such as off-grid solar, also emerged in parallel as an electrification solution. This dissertation critically examines the role of off-grid solar in facilitating rural electrification efforts in India. Specifically, it

As India expanded its grid infrastructure, decentralized renewable energy technologies, such as off-grid solar, also emerged in parallel as an electrification solution. This dissertation critically examines the role of off-grid solar in facilitating rural electrification efforts in India. Specifically, it applies the frameworks of the multi-level perspective, capabilities approach, and energy justice to achieve three objectives: (1) trace the evolution of off-grid solar in India; (2) understand the role of solar micro-grids in improving household capabilities and well-being; (1) examine whether and how community-scale solar micro-grids can operate as just means of electrification. This research relies on qualitative case-study methods. The historical research in Paper 1 is based on published policy documents and interviews with energy experts in India. It finds that landscape-regime-niche actor relations and politics were crucial in shaping off-grid solar transition outcomes. There is also a narrative component, as the key narratives of energy security, environmental degradation, climate change and energy for development converged to create spaces for state and non-state interactions that could nurture the development of off-grid solar. The community-level research in Papers 2 and 3 analyze a local energy initiative of community operated solar micro-grid using semi-structured interviews and participant observations from three villages in Maharashtra. Solar micro-grids play an important part in expanding people’s choices and opportunities. The benefits are not uniform across all people, however. Increases in energy-related capabilities vary by economic class and gender, and to some extent this means certain biases can get reinforced. In addition, the inability of solar micro-grids to keep up with the changing electrification landscape and daily practices means that the challenges of affordability, reliability and community engagement emerged as important concerns over-time. Empirically, this dissertation finds that off-grid energy initiatives must be carefully designed to be in alignment with local values and realities. Theoretically, it adds to debates on justice in energy transitions by showcasing the regime-led innovations, and temporality elements of energy justice local energy initiatives.

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2021