Using hugs, carrots and sticks: How agents exercise power in the transition to community-owned energy systems in remote India

Aparna Katre, Arianna Tozzi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Decentralized Renewable Energy (DRE) systems are key for sustainable energy transitions, particularly in energy poor communities, yet their pace of adoption remains slow. This paper contributes to the field of energy transition, examining the role of power to establish and govern long-lasting community-owned DRE systems. The study develops a novel conceptual framework that analyses power as a system, whose constituting components include; entities (who); resources (what); instruments (how); motivations (why); and the spatial-temporal dimensions (where and when). Using qualitative methods, the framework is applied to examine 24 community-owned DRE systems implemented by a single solution provider in remote India that have been operational for many years. Learnings suggest that at the time of establishing the systems, the solution provider centrally mobilizes power, distributing hugs to bring actors together and generate consensus for the model. Conversely, while governing the systems power is mobilized by multiple entities, each using different instruments to achieve the collective aim of building local capacities for technical and administrative tasks. While external actors support the communities using a mix of hugs, carrots and sticks, local actors themselves engage in a virtuous cycle of learning-by-doing, leveraging their knowledge and abilities to acquire the skills to ensure long-lasting solutions. This model requires carefully designed contractual agreements, enabling non-hierarchical relations, flexibility and devolving responsibilities to the communities to devise and enforce contextually relevant rules. Retaining the power of alienation with external stakeholders acts as a deterrent, preventing elite capture and ensuring inclusivity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)129-139
Number of pages11
JournalEnergy Research and Social Science
StatePublished - Aug 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We are sincerely thankful to Anshuman Lath, Sameer Nair, Prasad Kulkarni, and Anand Kawade, directors at Gram Oorja Solutions, for all their help and assistance. Thanks also to all staff members at Gram Oorja for their ongoing assistance in coordinating and organizing field visits for data collection. We also thank local partner NGOs and villagers who made themselves available for data collection. The study was partially funded by the startup funds provided by University of Minnesota Duluth to Aparna Katre, one of the coauthors.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 Elsevier Ltd


  • Capacity building
  • Community-ownership
  • Decentralization
  • Energy transition


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