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A light left in the dark: The practice and politics of pico-hydropower in the Lao PDR


  • Smits, Mattijs
  • Bush, Simon R.


The article describes the widespread use of an estimated 60,000 low-head pico-hydropower turbines and well-developed networks of supply and support in the Northern part of the Lao People's Democratic Republic (Lao PDR). This apparent widespread use is contrasted with the policy narratives of key actors in the government, multilateral organisations and the private sector which show an often simplified and overly negative attitude towards pico-hydropower. Based on empirical research carried out in three upland districts and the capital, Vientiane, the paper critically investigates the apparent disjuncture between policy and practice by placing pico-hydropower within the broader political context of rural electrification in the Lao PDR. It is argued that the neglect of pico-hydropower and other off-grid household electrification technologies is a result of an endemic lack of information on which to base policy decisions, the orientation of the government to facilitate large scale foreign investment in large hydropower dams, the universal applicability of solar home systems, and the broader state agenda of centralisation and control over service provision to remote upland areas.

Suggested Citation

  • Smits, Mattijs & Bush, Simon R., 2010. "A light left in the dark: The practice and politics of pico-hydropower in the Lao PDR," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 38(1), pages 116-127, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:enepol:v:38:y:2010:i:1:p:116-127

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Li, Tania Murray, 2002. "Engaging Simplifications: Community-Based Resource Management, Market Processes and State Agendas in Upland Southeast Asia," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 30(2), pages 265-283, February.
    2. Green, Donna, 2004. "Thailand's solar white elephants: an analysis of 15 yr of solar battery charging programmes in northern Thailand," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 32(6), pages 747-760, April.
    3. Roe, Emery M., 1991. "Development narratives, or making the best of blueprint development," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 19(4), pages 287-300, April.
    4. Lawrence R. Sullivan, 2000. "Guest Editor's Introduction," Chinese Economy, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 33(3), pages 3-6, May.
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    Cited by:

    1. Susanto, J. & Stamp, S., 2012. "Local installation methods for low head pico-hydropower in the Lao PDR," Renewable Energy, Elsevier, vol. 44(C), pages 439-447.
    2. repec:eee:rensus:v:77:y:2017:i:c:p:1251-1260 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Bozorgi, A. & Javidpour, E. & Riasi, A. & Nourbakhsh, A., 2013. "Numerical and experimental study of using axial pump as turbine in Pico hydropower plants," Renewable Energy, Elsevier, vol. 53(C), pages 258-264.
    4. Bhutto, Abdul Waheed & Bazmi, Aqeel Ahmed & Zahedi, Gholamreza, 2012. "Greener energy: Issues and challenges for Pakistan-hydel power prospective," Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Elsevier, vol. 16(5), pages 2732-2746.
    5. repec:eee:rensus:v:81:y:2018:i:p2:p:2796-2805 is not listed on IDEAS
    6. Chang, Youngho & Fang, Zheng & Li, Yanfei, 2016. "Renewable energy policies in promoting financing and investment among the East Asia Summit countries: Quantitative assessment and policy implications," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 95(C), pages 427-436.
    7. Andrea K. Chareunsy, 2015. "Is there a Pareto solution to the misaligned incentives and competing objectives of water grabbing in the Lao PDR?," Asian-Pacific Economic Literature, Asia Pacific School of Economics and Government, The Australian National University, vol. 29(2), pages 85-96, November.
    8. Elizabeth Baldwin & Jennifer N. Brass & Sanya Carley & Lauren M. MacLean, 2015. "Electrification and rural development: issues of scale in distributed generation," Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Energy and Environment, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 4(2), pages 196-211, March.
    9. Kelly-Richards, Sarah & Silber-Coats, Noah & Crootof, Arica & Tecklin, David & Bauer, Carl, 2017. "Governing the transition to renewable energy: A review of impacts and policy issues in the small hydropower boom," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 101(C), pages 251-264.
    10. Sovacool, Benjamin K., 2013. "An international assessment of energy security performance," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 88(C), pages 148-158.


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