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Energy Access in an Era of Low Carbon Transitions: Politicising Energy for Development Projects in India

KUMAR, ANKIT (2015) Energy Access in an Era of Low Carbon Transitions: Politicising Energy for Development Projects in India. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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This thesis examines the role of low carbon energy projects in widening energy access, progressing energy transitions and furthering development goals in rural India. Currently in development contexts, energy access and transitions are mobilised through micro energy projects like solar lanterns and micro-grids. The successes and failures of these projects are primarily assessed quantitatively – number of villages covered, number of households connected etc. However, this approach fails to understand how energy transitions projects perform in people’s everyday lives. It does not capture the reasons why they work for particular groups of people and not for others.

To go beyond the quantitative understanding, this thesisfocuses on the micro-politics of everyday life that shape the effects energy transitions projects have on different groups of people. Itconsiders how power, politics and culture are vital for understanding the successes and failures of these projects. Theoretically the thesis conceives low carbon projects as low carbon assemblages to understand their fluid and contingent nature and the ways in which they are configured and reconfigured through relationships of power and everyday politics. Engaging with governmentality studies, it further considers how different, pre-existing and newly configured relationships of power conduct people’s conducts and sometimes lead to resistances for low carbon projects.

The thesis critically examines three crucial aspects of low carbon energy projects by engaging with three key ideas – trusteeship, significances and resistances. Firstly, it explores how, by positioning themselves as trustees, particular actors seek to assemble and govern low carbon projects in order to achieve specific outcomes. Secondly, it investigates how, by focusing on particular significances of electricity, these interventions work to achieve particular development goals in different spaces of everyday life. Finally, it asks how and why different pressures and contestations emerge as everyday resistances in low carbon transitions.

The thesis takes an ethnographic route of enquiry in order to examine energy in everyday life, using participant observations, interviews and photography. It explores two different low carbon projects – Lighting a Billion Lives (LaBL) solar lanterns project and Husk Power Systems (HPS) biomass micro-grids project – and contrasts them against the central grid and kerosene oil networks, in five villages in Bihar.

Three key arguments emerge from the thesis. Firstly, electricity access should be understood as a spatially heterogeneous and temporally fluid idea. Its firm quantification and standardisation are problematic because electricity access is geographically and socially differentiated.It needs to be explored in an ethnographic manner, in which not onlyquestions of ‘how much’ but also of who, how and where are critical. Secondly, in energy and development projects, context matters. The society, culture, politics and economy of spaces in which projects are implemented mediate their impacts. Finally, the upkeep and maintenance of low carbon energy projects is not just about economies and supply chains of spare parts but also about cooperation and coordination between the project designers and users.Being able to fulfil people’s changing electricity requirements by building flexibility in the projects is critical to respond to these three issues. This will make projects more sustainable and increase people’s trust on low carbon projects leading to a convergence between energy access and energy transitions.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:energy access; energy transitions; energy cultures; low carbon energy; critical development studies; assemblage; governmentally; ethnography
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Social Sciences and Health > Geography, Department of
Thesis Date:2015
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:15 Jan 2016 08:52

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