Power to the people Diffusion of renewable electricity in rural areas of developing countries

University dissertation from Stockholm : KTH Royal Institute of Technology

Abstract: Nearly all the 1.3 billion people in the world with no electricity access live in developing countries. On the one hand, electricity is a basic need. On the other hand, the environment should not be further damaged. Thus, sustainable electricity in developing countries is clearly needed. The aim of this dissertation is to analyse the mechanism of the diffusion and adoption of renewable electricity with particular focus on rural electrification among low-income inhabitants in developing countries. The dissertation is comprised of a cover essay and six appended papers with a mix of qualitative and quantitative methods based on several means of data collection.The first paper describes diffusion theory through a novel bibliometric tool. This novel method provides an overview, structure, and explanation of a large research area; complements a traditional literature review; and can be applied to any knowledge field. Here, the structure of the recent development of diffusion research, together with its application, are presented. With a specific focus on rural electrification among low-income inhabitants in developing countries, the diffusion framework is empirically applied with complementary concepts in the second, third, and fourth papers, based on three different cases. One case study investigates the adoption of electricity among rural inhabitants in Uganda and shows that a foreign company can be an important player in the rural electrification effort. Another case study addresses a large dissemination of photovoltaic systems provided by a local firm in Bangladesh and reveals that the diffusion of renewable energy can be effectively undertaken by a private local firm, rather than waiting for full government support or large multi-national corporations. The other case study discusses a small-scale diffusion of photovoltaic systems in a remote region in Thailand and presents an extreme case where full government support is necessary. In addition, through a systematic literature review, the barriers to adoption of photovoltaic systems are identified in the fifth paper, highlighting several remaining challenges. In the last paper, issues related to the transition to using photovoltaic systems in off-grid communities are discussed.The diffusion mechanism of renewable electricity has been shown to be a highly complicated process, having several unforeseeable and context-specific factors. A technology with superior qualities does not diffuse by itself but requires tremendous effort and close collaboration on the part of stakeholders. There are complex relations, on the one hand, between technology and society and, on the other hand, between technology providers and adopters. No single, fast, or straightforward remedy can address the complex nature of diffusion of renewable electricity in rural communities. Therefore, understanding the local context is highly important, indicating the need for empirical investigation. This dissertation offers several contributions concerning methodological, theoretical, empirical, managerial and policy. It also provides implications that may be relevant for actors who attempt to introduce, disseminate, and manage new energy technologies in rural communities.