Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2018

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Michael P. Hannigan

Second Advisor

Katherine L. Dickinson

Third Advisor

Sarah R. Sterling

Fourth Advisor

Julie E. Steinbrenner

Fifth Advisor

Shalom D. Ruben


In Sub-Saharan Africa almost 600 million people currently live in the darkness of energy poverty, and millions more will be without energy access in 2030 due to population growth and slow grid expansion. Solar PV technology is a viable alternative to grid expansion, and off-grid solar products (<10W-1kW) are projected to make a significant contribution toward achieving the United Nations’ goal of sustainable energy access for all by 2030. Off-grid solar products will save people money, supply more and brighter light, create opportunities to generate income, and have a positive impact on health, education, gender equality, the environment, and quality of life. While numerous stakeholders have made substantial efforts to grow this market, progress has been hindered by a limited understanding of the processes which underlie solar technology adoption in emerging economies. I aimed to reveal these processes by developing and applying a holistic theoretical framework that illuminates the off-grid solar technology adoption process.

I synthesized the relevant literature into an actionable theory of change that elucidates the fundamental mechanisms which drive solar adoption in Sub-Saharan Africa. I utilized this theory of change to integrate a broad array of data and model results originating from 324 surveys of current and potential solar users in Northern Tanzania. The theory of change allowed my colleagues and I to draw more concise and meaningful conclusions. We found that limited awareness of financial benefits was the main barrier preventing additional solar market growth in this area. The theory of change also provided guidance as I developed an intervention to address this barrier. I proposed an intervention, and rigorous evaluation thereof, which will raise awareness through first-hand experience with solar products, underscore the benefits through automated text messages, and increase peer referrals through text-based incentives. This intervention could be implemented by the relevant stakeholders to potentially increase solar uptake, and contribute to achieving sustainable energy access for all by 2030 – the ultimate motivation behind developing and applying this off-grid solar theory of change.