An off-grid solar frontier: the scalar geographies of the photovoltaic turn in Ghana


Thursday 15 October 2020, 11-12 am (UTC) on Zoom

Speaker: Dr. Paul Munro, University of New South Wales


The sale of off-grid solar products has undergone an extraordinary boom in the Global South over the past decade. In 2019 alone, an estimated 35 million off-grid solar products – in the form of solar lanterns and small solar home systems – were sold, an abrupt increase from the 200,000 products that were sold a decade earlier. A key driving force behind this rapid change has been the proliferation of start-up companies, with the backing of international investors, using financial technology innovations to market and sell these off-grid solar products to energy poor populations. While this boom in off-grid solar sales first emerged in East Africa, it is rapidly moving into new Global South markets. Ghana, in particular, has been noted as a new fronter for these products, with start-up companies securing more than $110 million in (equity and debt) investment over the past five years to expand sales across Ghana. In this presentation, I provide an update of an ongoing research project that looks at the scalar politics of this off-grid photovoltaic turn in Ghana. I adopt a political economy approach, in that I recognise off-grid solar products not as neutral, technical and physical piece of electrical infrastructure, rather as socio-technical dispositifs that are mediated by sets of actors, resources, knowledges, values and institutions. Drawing on this conceptual approach, I explore the themes and implications of marketizing solar products, that are shaped by the vagaries of international financial investment, to energy poor households.


Dr Paul Munro is a Scientia Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Arts and Social Science at the University of New South Wales, and a visiting Research Fellow at the Maria Sibylla Merian Institute for Advanced Studies in Africa (MIASA), University of Ghana. He has an established research record in the fields of political ecology and environmental history, and has written extensively on forest governance and energy justice, with a particular geographical focus on Sub-Saharan Africa