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Research article2019Peer reviewed

Electricity-Centered Clientelism and the Contradictions of Private Solar Microgrids in India

Balls, Jonathan N.; Fischer, Harry W.


Most discussions about solar microgrids focus on sustainable energy and development goals and the technical aspects of electricity generation, storage, transmission, and distribution. Very few explicitly examine the ways in which their introduction upsets and reshapes entrenched practices of electoral politics and citizen claim-making around electricity access and development. In India, as in many parts of the world, electricity represents the most visible symbol of economic development and social well-being. Democratic politics in many developing countries are linked to demands for access to electricity. The meshing of electricity, development, and democratic politics in postindependence India has produced a politics of clientelism in which parties have sought to gain voter support with promises of cheap or free electricity. Although this electricity-centered clientelism has expanded supply, it has simultaneously contributed to skewed spatial access, unreliable supply, and high debt burdens for state-owned electricity distribution companies. This article examines histories of clientelism and the contradictions emerging from the introduction of private solar microgrids in rural areas of the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. It shows that although solar microgrids avoid electricity-centered clientelism, significant numbers of poor rural households in their supply areas are both excluded by their user-pays approach and unable to demand fair access through political representatives. The study calls for alternative governance and support programs at local levels that ensure that private solar microgrids can deliver reliable electricity to poor households. Key Words: clientelism, electricity, India, populism, solar microgrids.


clientelismo; electricidad; india; microrredes solares; populismo

Published in

Annals of the American Association of Geographers
2019, Volume: 109, number: 2, pages: 465-475

    Sustainable Development Goals

    SDG7 Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
    SDG16 Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
    SDG17 Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Energy Systems
    Human Geography
    Political Science (excluding Public Administration Studies and Globalization Studies)

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