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

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisCollection of Articles


Off-grid systems deployment is essential to achieving Sustainable Development Goals related to energy access (SDG-7). Their deployment presents a market opportunity, given the limitations of public utilities. 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, specifically Solar Home Systems (SHSs) and mini-grids. This study mainly uses a qualitative method of enquiry. 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) to overcome the disadvantages of descriptive methods and field pilots. This dissertation presents new insights into on-site experiences and identifies the often overlooked or invisible nuances related to social enterprises' participation 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 or unforeseen consequences.
Translated title of the contributionVerkosta irrallisen maaseutujen sähköistämisen rajat: Base-of-the--the-Pyramid –markkinoiden realiteetit, riskit ja haasteet
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor's degree
Awarding Institution
  • Aalto University
  • Lahdelma, Risto, Supervising Professor
  • Sahrakorpi, Tiia, Thesis Advisor
  • Paatero, Jukka, Thesis Advisor
Print ISBNs978-952-64-1090-6
Electronic ISBNs978-952-64-1091-3
Publication statusPublished - 2022
MoE publication typeG5 Doctoral dissertation (article)


  • narrative analysis
  • SHS
  • mini-grid
  • electrification
  • BoP market


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