Beyond technology and finance: pay-as-you-go sustainable energy access and theories of social change

Journal Article
Published In: Environment and Planning A

Two-thirds of people in sub-Saharan Africa lack access to electricity, a precursor of poverty reduction and development. The international community has ambitious commitments in this regard, e.g. the UN’s Sustainable Energy for All by 2030. But scholarship has not kept up with policy ambitions. This paper operationalises a socio-technical transitions perspective to analyse for the first time the potential of new, mobile-enabled, pay-as-you-go approaches to financing sustainable energy access, focussing on a case study of pay-as-you-go approaches to financing solar home systems in Kenya. The analysis calls into question the adequacy of the dominant, two-dimensional treatment of sustainable energy access in the literature as a purely financial/technology, economics/engineering problem (which ignores sociocultural and political considerations) and demonstrates the value of a new research agenda that explicitly attends to theories of social change – even when, as in this paper, the focus is purely on finance. The paper demonstrates that sociocultural considerations cut across the literature’s traditional two-dimensional analytic categories (technology and finance) and are material to the likely success of any technological or financial intervention. It also demonstrates that the alignment of new pay-as-you-go finance approaches with existing sociocultural practices of paying for energy can explain their early success and likely longevity relative to traditional finance approaches.