I plan to spend the next of the week at the Sustainable Energy for All Forum at the United Nations. The meeting investigates approaches to mitigating energy poverty — today, billions remain without access to electricity and clean cooking fuels — and brings together government officials, entrepreneurs, civil society organizations, and researchers.

My own work in this field has so far focused on rural electrification, with field projects in India to evaluate the socio-economic impact of Mera Gao Power’s solar microgrids and examine technology adoption with Boond. In another project, we work with Nidan to investigate the use of centralized solar stations for giving street vendors in Patna, Bihar access to lighting.

My own experience is that energy poverty should be seen as a problem of political economy. While much of the public debate is cast in terms of aggregate investment and planning, the real obstacles to mitigating energy poverty are found in dysfunctional institutions and distributional conflicts. One of the themes I wish to address in my research beyond microlevel studies is the big picture of the institutional pathologies that are causing and sustaining energy poverty.

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