Energy transitions in rural Amazonia
: the implications of energy availability for income diversification and gender relations

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Decentralised renewable energy solutions are presented as the catalyst for rural development and poverty eradication for the developing world. Sustainable energy is considered to be both a goal in itself and the backbone for the achievement of better living conditions. Eradicating energy poverty by 2030, therefore, became a central goal and tool for the Sustainable Development Goals. In addition, access to energy is seen as essential to increasing gender equality and empowering women. Yet the evidence base for such bold expectations remains thin.

This thesis makes two interrelated contributions. Firstly, it analyses the role of energy for income-generation and livelihood diversification at the micro-level using a novel framework which incorporates non-traditional economic factors: namely normative understanding of gendered division of labour and gender. Secondly, it foregrounds gender perspectives in the analysis of energy impacts on local ideologies and social relations. By doing so, this thesis argues that there is a return to the heavily criticised concept of the ‘feminisation of poverty’ in almost all international development discourses on energy access.

Empirically, this thesis draws on six months of field research in the Brazilian Amazon, which encompassed qualitative approaches (e.g. participant observation, interviews and group discussions) with final energy users of solar photovoltaic mini-grid, and diesel-oil mini-grid rural villagers. In addition, interviews were carried with energy sector actors involved in rural electrification such as technicians, energy-experts, engineers and energy planning directors, as well as members of the government (national and local) responsible for rural electrification programme. Material from both kinds of interviews was then complemented by a universal household survey of participants from four isolated villages with differential energy access.

The study concludes that current global models of energy access for rural socio-economic development, do not effectively promote income creation at a local level and do not deliver the promised structural societal changes, such as gender equality, or improvement of spare or leisure time. With few exceptions, it leaves pre-existing gender relations largely unchallenged. Livelihood diversification and increases in income only appear to be triggered under specific circumstances. For example, when energy is reliable, 10 affordable and available and perceived, by locals, as an unlimited resource not only to satisfy basic needs of lighting, refrigeration and cooling but also to satisfy the desires for new appliances and technology. Moreover, energy services must attend to the demand of demographic changes.

In conclusion, I argue that in isolated rural areas of the Brazilian Amazon, decentralised solutions need to be tailored according to the community’s cultural understanding of the world as well as satisfying future needs brought about by other means of communication (internet and TV) as well as an increasing interaction between rural-urban and rural-rural dwellers (brought by energy mobility improvement).
Date of Award1 Apr 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorJelke Boesten (Supervisor) & Sonia Delindro Goncalves (Supervisor)

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