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Disruptive innovations and decentralized renewable energy systems in Africa: A sociotechnical review

This is a peer-reviewed manuscript written by Dr. Basil Amuzu-Sefordzi and his colleagues at the University of Western Australia. The manuscript reviewed the extant literature on the adoption of solar systems, biogas digesters, and improved cookstoves in Africa.


The adoption of decentralized renewable energy technologies (RTech) is a challenge in rural sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) despite their potential to increase the living standards of people in these areas. RTech such as solar photovoltaics, biogas digesters and improved cook stoves are disseminated in SSA to supply affordable energy, reduce indoor air pollution, combat deforestation and climate change. Despite extensive research and development in facilitating dissemination over the past five decades, significant challenges still hamper the adoption and sustainability of RTech. This paper reviews current literature on RTech adoption in SSA from a sociotechnical perspective to examine the relationship between RTech and users. Three attributes of innovation (i.e., relative advantage, compatibility and complexity) are used to examine user behavior during RTech adoption. In this study, we examine whether and how the attributes of innovation generate disruptions in adopters’ daily lives and how these changes influence the adoption decision process. This is particularly important in rural SSA because it reveals the appropriateness of RTech from different and sometimes interrelated perspectives. The study found that RTech adoption is likely to be high when benefits (i.e., lighting, short cooking times and income savings) are immediate and easily understood. However, RTech compatibility changes with adopter socio-economic status, especially when benefits such as lighting are highly valued. With more than half of the studies reviewed investigating only one innovation attribute, this paper makes a significant contribution to the literature by adopting a multi-dimensional analytical approach.

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