New frontiers of electricity capital: energy access in sub-Saharan Africa

Baker, Lucy (2023). New frontiers of electricity capital: energy access in sub-Saharan Africa. New Political Economy, 28(2) pp. 206–222.



While recent years have seen the rapid growth of off-grid solar power, ten per cent of the world’s population, the majority in sub-Saharan Africa, still lack access to electricity. Meanwhile, standalone solar home systems using pay as you go (PAYGO) mobile money have been proposed as a key solution to meeting the target of universal access to energy under Sustainable Development Goal 7. These systems are being deployed in various regions of the global South, including East Africa and to a lesser extent West Africa. I investigate how through PAYGO, off-grid solar electricity in sub-Saharan Africa is being transformed into a cash flow, a financial asset and a conduit for consumer debt. In so doing I analyse evolving relationships between some of the key actors and institutions involved in this process, including mobile banking platforms such as M-Pesa, ‘next generation utilities’ such as M-KOPA and BBOXX, and powerful mobile network operators such as Safaricom and MTN. Theoretically I conceptualise energy access as a new frontier of ‘electricity capital’, a developing field from political economy and energy geography, which is concerned with the way in which technological developments in the electricity sector are reconfiguring relationships between different institutions of the state, industry, finance, and users.

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