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

M. Smits, S.R. Bush

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41 Citations (Scopus)


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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)116-127
JournalEnergy Policy
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2010


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