The Economy of Appearances

A critical part of the solar assemblage  is what anthropologist Anna Tsing called the economy of appearances. Solar entrepreneurs have to produce a spectacle of profitability and potential – of which the construction of a coherent, cohesive story or narrative for investors is vital. In this, journalists have an important role to play.

Last week The Guardian’s global development portal published an article by freelance journalist Anna da Costa about Mera Gao Power. Over the following year I plan to write about a number of for-profit companies that are rolling out solar-powered micro-electricity grids for communities in rural India and I will begin with this one, which received a $US300,000 grant from USAID at the end of 2011 to build and operate 40 micro grids in Sitapur district over the next two years.

These solar enterprises are of interest because – unlike portable solar lighting systems – they create a physical grid, based infrastructure that is premised on a wider social constituency of users that extends beyond the level of the individual or the household. I’ll explore the significance of the micro-grid more later but here I want to reflect on the corporate storytelling that solar entrepreneurs must engage in as they seek to secure investment from development donor agencies and venture capitalists. Continue reading