Public Defence in Mechanical Engineering M. Sc. (Tech.) Venkata Bandi

"The limits of off-grid rural electrification: realities, risks and challenges in Base-of-Pyramid markets"

Opponent Professor Jarkko Levänen, Department of Sustainability Science, Lappeenranta-Lahti University of Technology, Lahti, Finland

Custos Professor Risto Lahdelma, Aalto University, School of Engineering, Department of Mechanical Engineering

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The limits of off-grid rural electrification: realities, risks and challenges in Base-of-Pyramid markets Off-grid systems deployment is essential to achieving Sustainable Development Goals related to energy access (SDG-7). Given this scenario, policymakers struggle with the wicked problem: if existing sociotechnical solutions can alleviate energy poverty, why is the energy transition slower than expected in rural Base-of-the-Pyramid (BoP) markets despite potential market opportunities? The slow progress is often attributed to market imperfections and other resource constraints in rural BoP markets. Social enterprise can potentially fill this void in rural BoP markets against this backdrop. This dissertation focuses on on-site experiences to examine the relationship between social entrepreneurship, rural BoP market characteristics, and challenges related to deploying off-grid systems in low-income areas. The study employs case studies to theorize on-site experiences concerning off-grid system deployment. The qualitative method employs an interdisciplinary approach blending multiple theoretical lenses: cases studies to collect data, narrative analysis for analyzing experiences of practitioners, social entrepreneurship to contextualize business operations in rural BoP markets, and Multi-Level Perspective (MLP) for understanding sociotechnical challenges of mini-grids. In addition to presenting the analysis of practitioners' narratives, the study suggests using multi-criteria tools such as stochastic multi-criteria acceptability analysis (SMAA). This dissertation presents new insights into on-site experiences of social enterprises operating in rural BoP markets. First, practitioners and stakeholders must manage rural SHS markets through a risk assessment of three key activities: community engagement, stakeholder management, and organizational capacity building. Additionally, this study enhances the business model framework for off-grid solar by adding risk as a new dimension. Second, the sustainability of a mini-grid business model depends on how sociotechnical aspects are designed, managed and operated. In addition, this study proposes a mini-grid business model framework integrating social and technical aspects employing sociotechnical regimes in the MLP. Finally, the multi-criteria decision support technique enables off-grid systems planners to make informed decisions to avoid untended consequences.

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