A new perspective on solar power in Africa

A new special issue journal co-edited by UNEP DTU Partnership looks at the political and socio-cultural dimensions of solar power technology across the continent.

October 12, 2018

Solar power is becoming the go to technology for sustainable energy all over Africa, but trends are manifesting unevenly across the continent.

To bring a new and needed perspective on the significant investment and market growth UNEP DTU Partnership has co-edited a special issue of the academic journal Energy Research and Social Science, looking at how market forces are working to complement, or replace, the role of state and donor agencies.

“This is the first time a collection of full length research articles emphasise the importance of understanding complex social, cultural and political realities and how these influence otherwise ‘standard’ economic and technical criteria to steer the uneven transition to solar PV technology across Africa.” Ivan Nygaard, Research Coordinator at UNEP DTU Partnership and one of the co-editors, explains.

Focus on uptake and diffusion through case studies

Researchers at UNEP DTU Partnership have co-edited the special issue of Energy Research and Social Science, in collaboration with researchers at Sussex University, focusing on the uptake and diffusion of solar power in Africa.

The collection of 14 articles is subtitled socio-cultural and political insights on a rapidly emerging socio-technical transition and includes case study analyses in eight African countries.

Access the full special issue here.

Consequences of market forces across scales

The special issue takes as its starting point the observation that market forces are working to complement, or replace, the role of state and donor agencies in supporting solar PV, previously considered a ‘niche’ technology in many African countries.

In recent years, significant investment and market growth has occurred at multiple scales, from pico-solar products and solar home systems to mini-grids, village-based charging stations and large-scale multi-megawatt on-grid PV installations.

However, the UNEP DTU Partnership editors point out that these trends are manifesting unevenly across political and economic boundaries in Africa and that few authors have explored the political and socio-cultural dimensions to this technological transition in empirical depth.

New perspectives on sustainable energy

More broadly, the editors seek to add a new perspective to academic debates regarding the diffusion of sustainable energy in non-OECD countries, which has been predominantly analysed from the perspectives of technological change/innovations and economic feasibility studies, within a field dominated by the disciplines of economics and engineering.

This perspective will, according to Ivan Nygaard, add significantly the practical value and analytical insight for future work on sustainable energy in developing countries.

“This research will help inform our project work with African governments who seek to understand how they can benefit from the rapid growth in solar PV technologies.
For example how they can capture a greater share of the global value chain in PV markets and create quality jobs, in pursuit of SDGs 8 and 9 on decent work, economic growth industrial innovation as well as SDG 7 on affordable and clean energy.”