Electricity theft as a relational issue: a comparative look at Zanzibar, Tanzania, and the Sunderban Islands, India

This paper combines findings from the Solar Transitions' case study on solar mini-grid systems in the Sunderban Islands with findings from a long- term ethnographic field work in Zanzibar, Tanzania, where a centralised system provides the rural population with electricity. The paper shows the merits of applying a grounded, socio-technical and relational analysis for understanding and addressing electricity theft in particular, and for realising sustainable energy systems in general.

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Electricity theft is a growing problem worldwide, and conventional, technology oriented means for combating the problem have often showed their limitations. Zanzibar and the Sunderbans differ in their types of electricity governance structures, technologies, organisation and procedures for metering, billing and supply, as well as in their socio-cultural setting. Nevertheless, in both places customers' moralities and degree of compliance are conditioned by their relationship to their supplier and the particularities of the socio-technical system of provision in which this relation is formed. The issue of trust is central and the findings show how people's level of trust in their supplier becomes jeopardised in both places, but for rather different reasons. Suggestions are provided as to how analytic attention to the customer–supplier relationship, and the material objects that mediate and shape it, could be used for increasing electricity customers' degree of compliance and for promoting sustainable energy systems in general.

Published June 20, 2012 12:12 PM - Last modified June 21, 2012 11:06 AM