Jonathan Balls

Off-grid Solar Power in Uttar Pradesh, India: improvisation and “jugaad” practices unsettling a new bottom of the pyramid market

Can a ‘bottom of the pyramid’ market for household solar power succeed in rural India? An emerging narrative is that formal for-profit companies and social enterprises can, and are building a market for small household solar products by implementing a winning model: the sale of good quality but value-conscious products, provided with financing for customers and the guarantee of servicing in future years. This account matches those of the recent literature on the bottom of the pyramid markets, which contend that for-profit companies can both ‘do well’ and ‘do good’ in low-income markets. Drawing on ten months of ethnographic fieldwork spent within solar shops and with dealers in Uttar Pradesh, this talk will trace how a number of companies are following this approach, selling quality solar power solutions for $160 or less. However, Balls will show how they are increasingly being outcompeted by local informal shops, selling cheap products and improvised or ‘jugaad’ solutions. He argues that the growing importance of cheap and improvised solutions for solar power unsettles a simple bottom of the pyramid account of the rapidly developing solar power market in India.

Jonathan Balls is a third year Ph.D. student within the School of Geography and the Environment, at the University of Oxford. His interests focus on state, society and market relations in contemporary India, development, and environmental sustainability. Currently, his Ph.D. work explores this focus through a case study of the developing off-grid solar power sector in North India.