In this paper, we seek to understand how the rapid expansion of off-grid solar energy across the global South since the turn of the century is influencing local and national processes of economic development. We do so through a systematic review of 125 papers published between 2001 and 2020 that provide much evidence and understanding on the topic.
Ninety-six of the reviewed papers claim off-grid solar expansion has positively influenced economic development. However, among other issues, much of this positivity is based upon a narrow conceptualisation of economic development as increased income, often achieved by individuals and firms working longer. To what extent these income gains are likely to be sustained and strengthened over time remains unclear.
Based on the findings, we call for future research in this area to adopt a more transformative conceptualisation of economic development, as well as a broader analytical framework that: pays greater attention to the role of the state; adopts a more critical position in relation to the foreign firm; and more fully embraces the contested, contingent, and uneven nature of the process of economic development under observation. We close the paper by identifying several fruitful avenues for future research.
It is hoped that these suggested paths might help build on the rich insights generated to date, to further deepen and develop our understanding of to what extent, how, and where off-grid solar expansion is promoting (or undermining) transformative and emancipatory processes of economic development in the global South.
Excerpt of: “Off-grid solar expansion and economic development in the global South: A
critical review and research agenda”, Ben Radley, Patrick Lehmann-Grube, Energy Research & Social Science