Village-level solar power in Africa: Accelerating access to electricity services through a socio-technical design in Kenya

Village-level solar power supply represents a promising potential for access to electricity services. Increased knowledge is needed for the development of solutions that work for the users and are viable in the long run. This article analyzes a solar power model developed and tested through action research in collaboration between a community in Kenya and a team of social scientists and technical experts. The analysis includes the reasons for its socio-technical design, and the actual functioning of the model. The research shows that an energy center model can cover basic electricity needs in areas with dispersed settlement patterns, where mini-grid based systems as well as conventional grid extension meet significant challenges. Such areas are representative for large geographical areas in Africa. We show that portable lanterns and low prices may enhance access to suitable services. Committed follow-up of the local actors, and a flexible socio-technical design – allowing for improvements after implementation – contribute to economic sustainability and smooth functioning. Close attention to the socio-cultural context and the challenges of users, operators and managers is required. Our research draws on theories of socio-technical change and users’ innovation, and presents a five-step analytical framework for analysis of village-level power provision.


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