Document Type


Publication Date



Energy poverty is a major problem in the developing world, with nearly 1.3 billion people lacking household electricity. Strikingly, the electrification rate is not only low, but is falling in many countries as population growth outpaces efforts to give more people access to electricity. Seizing the opportunities presented by rapid changes in technology and the availability of renewable energy at continually falling costs, social enterprises have begun to light the darkness and fill in the gap between the public and private provision of electricity. We review the extent of energy poverty and explain why neither the public, nor the private sector has successfully addressed this problem. We also discuss institutional factors that have created an environment conducive to the spread of solar power. To illustrate the social enterprise response, we explain the sector’s three most common approaches to solar electrification. Since the potential benefits of any social innovation revolve around its scalability, we discuss various paths to scale before outlining A.T. Kearney’s “Social Enterprise Accelerator” model as a template for scaling up individual social businesses. To enable greater consistency with an institutional economic framework, we suggest an adaptation of the model. We conclude by highlighting potential benefits and challenges facing solar electrification, including the limits of social enterprise as a stand-alone solution to utility provision.

Publication Title

Journal of Economic Issues