SOAS Research Online

A Free Database of the Latest Research by SOAS Academics and PhD Students

[skip to content]

Baker, Lucy and Phillips, Jon (2019) 'Tensions in the transition: The politics of electricity distribution in South Africa.' Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space, 37 (1). pp. 177-196.

[img]
Preview
Text - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 (CC-BY 4.0).

Download (201kB) | Preview
[img] Text - Draft Version
Restricted to Repository staff only

Request a copy

Abstract

This paper argues that the distribution of electricity represents an important yet neglected aspect of the politics of energy transitions. In recent years, South Africa’s electricity sector has seen the introduction of new actors and technologies, including the ‘prosumer’ (producer–consumer) of electricity and small-scale embedded generation from roof-top solar photovoltaics. We analyse these recent developments in historical context and consider implications for contemporary planning, regulation and ownership of electricity. We find that the reconfiguration of electricity distribution faces significant political and economic challenges that are rooted in the country’s socio-economic and racial inequalities and its heavy dependence on coal-fired power. First small-scale embedded generation offers potential opportunities for affordable, decentralised, low-carbon energy, yet disruption to the coal-powered electric grid and the monopoly of South Africa’s electricity utility has been minimal to date. Second, small-scale embedded generation creates tensions between equitable and low-carbon energy transitions and threatens critical revenue from the country’s wealthy consumers that cross-subsidises electricity services for the poor and other municipal public services. Third, the South African experience queries common assumptions about the democratic potential of decentralised governance. Fourth, South Africa provides insights of global significance into how political institutions have responded to social and technological drivers of change, in a context where planning and regulation have followed rather than led infrastructural developments. While energy policy remains unresponsive or resistant to social and technological change, there remain significant political, economic, technical and regulatory challenges to a just and inclusive energy transition.

Item Type: Journal Article
Keywords: Distributed generation, electricity, small-scale embedded generation, solar photovoltaics, South Africa
SOAS Departments & Centres: Departments and Subunits > Department of Development Studies
ISSN: 23996544
DOI (Digital Object Identifier): https://doi.org/10.1177/2399654418778590
Date Deposited: 17 Jan 2022 13:10
URI: https://eprints.soas.ac.uk/id/eprint/36238
Funders: Economic and Social Research Council, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council

Altmetric Data

Statistics

Download activity - last 12 monthsShow export options
Downloads since deposit
6 month trend
9Downloads
6 month trend
18Hits
Accesses by country - last 12 monthsShow export options
Accesses by referrer - last 12 monthsShow export options

Repository staff only

Edit Item Edit Item